Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...  
R.G.Menzies above

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Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?


31 January, 2012

Australian public broadcaster under fire for vilifying Christians

We read:
"In the satirical interview, John Clarke poses as a mental health professional - apparently being questioned by Brian Dawe on the psychological damage caused by lengthy processing of asylum seekers.

But in a twist, it is revealed they are actually discussing how long politicians stay in office before they are finally voted out:

Dawe: A lot of them must realise the damage they are doing?

Clarke: Oh, they do. A lot of them are Christians.

Dawe: So there would be a lot of guilt?

Clarke: A lot of guilt. A lot of denial.

Dawe: Look what they are doing to the asylum seekers.


Video at link

Australian law is very sweeping in its provisions about racial vilification. It says: "It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if: (a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group"

But there is no similar prohibition against religious vilification that I know of. So this complaint is unlikely to go anywhere beyond the bureaucracy.

Even if the Act did apply to religion, it has extensive exemptions. Exempted in Section 18d, for instance, are comments made "in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest".

One would have thought that the above exemption provided a complete defence for conservative columnist Andrew Bolt in the prosecution recently brought against him. That judge Mordechai Bromberg did not accept that defence and proceeded to convict Bolt is thus incomprehensible in terms of what the law says. It can, as far as I can see, be explained only as a political judgement, akin to many of the judgments handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even some Leftists were disturbed by Bromberg's extremism.

Given the pervasive Leftism of diaspora Jews, however, I suppose judge Bromberg's judgment and the accompanying tortured reasoning were to be expected. Jews are heavily represented in the Australian judiciary so I suppose we have to be glad that not many politically-relevant cases come before them. Leftism and law don't seem to go well together.

Epidemiologists are known for their poor grip on logic but this guy beats the band

The Warmist epidemiologist below is perfectly correct that past natural climate changes have been disastrous but the disastrous ones were episodes of COOLING. Periods of warming -- as in the Roman warm period -- were periods of prosperity and civilizational advance. Yet he is trying to make the case that history shows warming to be bad. He must know that history indicates the opposite so I say without hesitation that he is a lying crook of zero credibility on anything. I could go on to dispute more of his patently false claims but what's the point?

A LEADING Australian disease expert says prompt action on climate change is paramount to our survival on Earth. Australian National University Epidemiologist Tony McMichael has conducted an historical study that suggests natural climate change over thousands of years has destabilised civilisations via food shortages, disease and unrest.

"We haven't really grasped the fact that a change in climate presents a quite fundamental threat to the foundations of population health," Prof McMichael said. "These things have happened before in response to fairly modest changes to climate.

"Let's be aware that we really must take early action if we are going to maintain this planet as a liveable habitat for humans."

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Prof McMichael argues the world faces extreme climate change "without precedent" over the past 10,000 years.

"With the exception of a few downward spikes of acute cooling due to massive volcanic eruptions, most of the changes have been within a band of about plus or minus three-quarters of a degree centigrade," he said today.

"Yet we are talking about the likelihood this century of going beyond two degrees centigrade and quite probably, on current trajectory, reaching a global average increase of three to four degrees."

Prof McMichael's paper states that the greatest recurring health risk over past millennia has been from food shortages mostly caused by drying and drought.

Warming also leads to an increase in infectious diseases as a result of better growth conditions for bacteria and the proliferation of mosquitoes.

Drought can also result in greater contact with rodents searching for scarce food supplies.

The ANU academic says while societies today are better equipped to defend themselves physically and technologically, they lack the flexibility smaller groups had in the past. That's partly because the world is now "over populated", according to Prof McMichael, so there are fewer areas available to retreat too.

Populations are also increasingly packed into large cities on coastlines which are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Prof McMichael has been examining the impact of climate change on population health for 20 years and says it's not easy to raise awareness of the risk.

"Most of the attention has been of a more limited shorter-term kind relating to things around us like the economy, our property, infrastructure and risks to iconic ecosystems and species."


Backdown on "Green" fuel policy in NSW

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's decision to dump the ban on regular unleaded petrol from July 1 has no doubt won him plenty of goodwill from the 750,000 NSW motorists who faced paying an extra $150 a year each for more expensive premium fuel as a result.

But there is also a definite and dangerous downside for the Premier — the impression that if he is put under enough pressure he will fold on difficult issues, regardless of whether he believes in the policy being attacked.

The question being asked today is: are we witnessing the emergence of Backdown Barry?

When O'Farrell spectacularly capitulated on his government's plan to slash the rebate paid to existing customers of the troubled solar bonus scheme last year to address a cost blow out, the decision was in large part put down to the inexperience and nervousness of a new government.

A backbench revolt sparked by the phone calls of angry constituents quickly led to a backdown and NSW electricity users wore the cost.

O'Farrell was quick to blame poor advice from the public service for the original cabinet decision in a bid to neuter the accusation that he was being politically populist at the expense of good policy.

This time around, the Premier has no such scapegoat. The cabinet made its decision to proceed with the regular unleaded petrol ban late last year to enforce the 6 per cent ethanol mandate — whereby oil companies must ensure that 6 per cent of all fuel sold is ethanol. The move was a former Labor government environmental initiative that was also designed to lower petrol prices.

The O'Farrell cabinet fully intended to stick with the petrol ban come July 1, despite knowing it would cost motorists more. It appears there has been no new information made available to the government in the meantime.

In fact, only one thing has changed — the public learning about the extra cost, thanks to a massive leak of cabinet documents last week, which revealed the numerous warnings about the cost to motorists and the possibility that the ban would be unconstitutional.

Like any leader faced with such a situation, O'Farrell had two options: argue the merits of the policy he and his cabinet believe in; or panic and run scared from the fight.

Today's decision gives the strong impression that O'Farrell has chosen the latter course. If so, it is a short term political fix that is likely to cause him long term political damage.

At the very least, the decision will give every one of the hundreds of lobby groups out there heart that if they can stir up the public sufficiently the government is susceptible to wilting under pressure.

It also confirms the view that in NSW politics, just like everywhere else, money talks. Manildra, the monopoly ethanol supplier in NSW, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Labor and the Coalition.

Which leads to perhaps the greatest irony of all about this decision — while O'Farrell has extinguished a political brush fire, his determination to enforce the ethanol mandate is about to ignite a much bigger fight.

The oil companies oppose the mandate and the big question is how — given he has just jettisoned his most effective lever for enforcing it — O'Farrell intends to do that.

Presumably the legislation he has flagged to remove the unleaded ban will need to contain a big stick such as large financial penalties for oil companies who do not comply.

So he will need to stick to a policy that benefits a generous political donor and — due to its capacity to support regional jobs — has a lot of support from the Nationals in the face of a campaign from the powerful and influential big oil companies.

Already the oil companies are accusing O'Farrell of sleight of hand in today's decision — they argue that enforcing the ethanol mandate will give them no option but to turn all regular unleaded into E10 in NSW to achieve the 6 per cent target of all fuel sold.

In other words, despite today's decision, regular unleaded fuel will still disappear from the bowser and those 750,000 motorists whose cars are incompatible with ethanol blends will be forced to pay more for premium fuel. Which was of course the catalyst for the original backdown.

It seems the stage is well and truly set. It will be fascinating to watch how Backdown Barry handles the fight.


Behind the Canberra riot

It is often said that oppositions don't win elections. Governments lose them. The federal ALP has yet to come to terms with that -- JR

The unintended riot near the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra on Australia Day serves as a reminder that Labor has an obsession with Tony Abbott. Yet an empirical examination of the opinion polls suggests the Opposition Leader is not Labor's essential problem. Rather, the ALP's political difficulties turn on policy - most notably, its action on climate change.

For a glimpse of Labor's state of delusion, look no further than the events at The Lobby restaurant on January 26. On the available evidence, it appears that Tony Hodges, Julia Gillard's press secretary, thought it would be a good idea if some indigenous Australians from the tent embassy confronted Abbott (either verbally or physically) at The Lobby. Why?

As Greg Turnbull, Paul Keating's one-time media adviser, said on ABC News 24 on Sunday, this was a knuckleheaded idea. Abbott would have experienced no political downside had he, alone, been confronted by radical Aborigines from the tent embassy. A smart political judge would have assessed such a scenario as a positive for the Opposition Leader.

Moreover, as is well known, Abbott has a history of supporting indigenous endeavours and has Aboriginal friends and associates. So why did Hodges do what he did? Presumably because he was so obsessed with Abbott that his judgment deserted him. It's much the same with the secretary of Unions ACT, Kim Sattler, who passed the Hodges message to some tent embassy personnel.

Whatever the exact course of the message, it seems that the recipients believed what they wanted to believe.

This is a common psychological phenomenon. The demonstrators, and more besides, thought Abbott was the kind of person who would call for the tent embassy to be demolished. In fact, of course, he did not.

The likes of Hodges and Sattler did not act automatically. For more than two years, members of the inner-city left have been warning that Abbott poses a threat to democracy and civil order. The group consists of educated leftists and social democrats alike and comprises authors, academics, bloggers, commentators, journalists, professionals and public servants.

Their views are evident to anyone who reads the ABC's online publication The Drum or the letters pages of the broadsheet newspapers.

The problem for Labor is that many Australians do not hold this position and support Abbott's social conservatism and economic policies. In August 2010, Abbott scored about as much support as Gillard. Now the Coalition leads Labor by a large margin in the polls. Clearly, the electorate does not regard Abbott as a threat.

And nor do some sensible, left-of-centre commentators who know him. In October last year, publisher Louise Adler wrote that she did not recognise Abbott in Susan Mitchell's attack biography, Tony Abbott: A Man's Man.

Labor's present political discontents stem not primarily from Abbott but, rather, from its commitment to a carbon tax leading to an emissions trading scheme.

Kevin Rudd's problems began when Abbott replaced Malcolm Turnbull and campaigned against the ETS. This was made clear when Herald journalist Lenore Taylor broke the story in late April 2010 that Labor had temporarily junked its ETS policy. She attributed this decision to "a bid to defuse Tony Abbott's 'great big new tax' attack".

On his blog on The Monthly's website, Robert Manne calls for Rudd to replace Gillard. He writes that "for its first nine months the Gillard government polled respectably" but Gillard's support began to fade in April last year.

True. What's missing is any mention of the fact the Gillard government's support began to fall once the Prime Minister announced, in late February last year, in the presence of the Greens, that Labor would introduce a carbon tax. The combination of a "great big new tax" and a broken election promise has made life difficult for Labor ever since.

The evidence suggests many Labor operatives are in denial about the impact of Rudd's and Gillard's climate change policies on the ALP. On Q&A last March, Lachlan Harris described the carbon tax as "the best decision Julia Gillard has made". The opinion polls, for the moment at least, indicate that Harris is deluded.

It appears that Australians are more concerned with the cost of electricity than with the anti-Catholic sectarianism which fires up much of the inner-city criticism of Abbott, or with the stance the Opposition Leader takes on such issues as Aboriginal advancement, asylum seekers and same-sex marriage.

The next federal election will not be decided on anyone's position on the tent embassy. It is only delusion, fired by obsession, which would lead to any other conclusion.

Or, in Greg Turnbull's terminology, the belief of a knucklehead.


Some disturbing negative externalities

Negative externalities are when private activities hurt other people. Many economists believe that they should be taxed or penalized

ON JANUARY 21, 1930, in the middle of the world's busiest city, excavation for New York's Empire State Building began. Fourteen months later, on May 1, 1931, the building was officially opened.

At 102 storeys it was for years the world's tallest building. About 21,000 people work there every day. It has a total floor area of 257,211 sq m. It cost, in today's dollars, about $500 million or $1944 per square metre.

In my quiet suburban street there is a house being built that has been under construction since the beginning of October 2009. For 28 months, six days a week, teams of carpenters, concretors and sundry tradesmen have been building a two-storey, detached house. With a floor area of about 200 sq m, it is not a mega-mansion. However, more than $5 million has already been spent on the construction and its completion is still a long way off.

When the house is finally finished, each square metre of floor area will have cost about $27,500 and each day of its construction will have produced a mere 0.9 sq m of floor space.

The house replaced a perfectly adequate brick bungalow, which was demolished and carted away. Then, before construction could even start in earnest, hundreds of cubic metres of sandstone bedrock were jack-hammered out of the site to join the remains of the old house at the tip.

The house's fashionable designer has called up only the best and most expensive materials and fittings and added to its complexity and expense with demanding and esoteric architectural details. Consequently the environmental footprint of the house is massive. Its profligacy is clearly indicated in its square metre cost.

As well, the impact of the protracted construction on the immediate neighbourhood has been much greater than that of a more moderate development. For almost 2½ years, our narrow street has been crowded with tradies' utes. Large mobile-cranes, skip-trucks, concrete mixers, earth-moving trucks and excavators regularly visit the building site and stay for hours. Street closures are common and there have been a number of accidents. Parking is a nightmare and walking can be dangerous.

All this aggravation and environmental degradation has been caused by one person with more money than sense and a designer who has no regard for the environment. What can be done to curb these antisocial endeavours?

How about a profligacy tax on buildings that exceed a certain cost? And why not include a completion date in the development approval and penalise the building owner for every day the work goes over that date?


30 January, 2012

Compensation bill tipped to hit $2 billion if dam operators found to be negligent during Brisbane floods

This is what the coverup was designed to avoid

THE State Government faces a $2 billion compensation bill if dam operators are found to have been negligent during the 2011 floods, one of the state's leading valuers says.

Iain Herriot, managing partner of WBP Herriots Queensland, said there were as many as 4500 "virtually unsaleable" properties in flood-hit suburbs of Ipswich and Brisbane.

At an average figure of $400,000 to compensate for loss of value and other damages, he estimated the total potential bill for the Government was more than $1.8 billion. That calculation did not take into account properties less badly affected.

"It's unfair that you should personally bear the cost and the loss that you may have occurred as a direct result of what may have been a result of operator error at Wivenhoe Dam," Mr Herriot said.

"If that is what the commission report finally reveals, the adversely affected owner has a classic case against the operator of the dam for compensation.

"If I had a flood-affected house ... the first nasty letter I would be writing would be to the dam operator and the Queensland Government saying 'give me the money - compensate me for your error'."

Cr Pisasale said there was scope to better manage flood events but it was "for the inquiry" to determine whether there had been negligence or even political interference in 2011. "These are the questions that should have been asked the first time round," he said.

A spokesman for Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the state "does not believe it will be, nor is it in possession of advice to suggest that it will be held liable" to compensate homeowners.

In any event, the Queensland Government Insurance Fund was "in place to meet all liabilities", the spokesman said.

LNP deputy leader Tim Nicholls said Queenslanders "may well look to the Government for recompense and that would be of great worry to Queenslanders given the debt and deficit situation we have at the moment".


Australians should not lose sleep over Europe's nightmares

The economic news from Europe in recent days has not been good. And it could get worse as the year progresses. Those guys have big problems. But let's not spook ourselves by imagining it to be any worse than it is.

Unfortunately, there has been a tendency in parts of the media to convey an exaggerated impression of how bad things are and of the extent to which Europe's problems translate into problems for us.

Take last week's downwardly revised forecast for the world economy this year from the International Monetary Fund. We heard a lot about the fund's dire warnings of what could happen if the Europeans did not get their act together, but what was not made clear was that the fund's actual forecast was for global recession to be avoided.

Though the growth forecast in the world economy this year was cut significantly from the forecast in September, at 3.3 per cent it is below the long-run average of about 4 per cent, but still comfortably above the 2 per cent level generally regarded as representing a world recession.

On the day, no one thought it necessary to tell us - even though the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, reminded journalists of it at his press conference - that, from our perspective, the fund's revisions were old news. They were surprisingly similar to the revised forecasts the government adopted in its midyear budget review last November.

The fund has the United States growing by 1.8 per cent this year; Treasury had it at 2 per cent. The fund has the euro area contracting by 0.5 per cent; Treasury had it contracting by 0.25 per cent. For China, the fund has growth of 8.2 per cent, whereas Treasury had 8.25 per cent. For India, it is the fund's 7 per cent versus Treasury's 6.5 per cent. Bottom line? The fund has the world growing by 3.3 per cent, while Treasury had it at 3.5 per cent.....

When Treasury did this sum in the midyear review, growth in the world economy of 3.5 per cent translated to growth in our main trading partners of 4.25 per cent. All this despite Europe's recession.

Fran Kelly of Radio National Breakfast did go to the trouble of asking the lead author of the fund's World Economic Outlook, Jorg Decressin, what the revised forecasts meant for us. His reply deflated most of the hype we have been subjected to.

"Australia will be affected by these downgrades only to a limited extent," he said. Oh. "At this stage, growth in output for Australia is still reasonably strong.

"Growth in Australia is importantly driven by major investment projects that are in the pipeline and these are funded by strong multinationals that don't have problems assessing funding." Oh.

"There is no advanced economy - or maybe there are one or two - that is as well placed as Australia in order to combat a deeper slowdown, were such a slowdown to materialise, and that's because, well, you still have room to cut interest rates if that was necessary and you also have a very strong fiscal [budgetary] position."


Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

THREE times as many Australian women have had PIP breast implants rupture than first thought, the medicines watchdog has said, warning the number of those affected by the faulty device will rise.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration initially received 37 unconfirmed reports that implants made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) had leaked. It has now revised the figure to 102 confirmed cases and 14 unconfirmed.

But the Public Health Association of Australia predicted the rupture rate would rise dramatically. Its chief executive, Michael Moore, said given the standard breast implant rupture rate was one in 10 over 10 years, the estimated number of women affected by leaking PIP implants would climb to more than 1200. "We can confidently say there will be more," Mr Moore said yesterday.

The TGA has told surgeons supplied with PIP implants to contact each patient for a check-up. It also expected the number of patients reporting their breast implants to have ruptured to increase.

"At this stage there is insufficient evidence of a problem with the Australian supplied implants to warrant routine removal of the implants that have not ruptured," a TGA spokeswoman, Kay McNiece, said yesterday.

The federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, was yesterday unwilling to upgrade her advice. When contacted by The Sun-Herald, a spokesman for Ms Plibersek said: "The minister continues to receive regular updates from the Chief Medical Officer and the TGA who are constantly evaluating information from around the world."

He also advised women who have concerns to contact the Breast Implant Information Line. There have been more than 2000 calls to the line, set up in response to the issue.

The TGA recalled PIP implants in April 2010 after French authorities found they had abnormally high rupture rates. PIP was shut down after concerns it was using industrial silicone, not medical-grade silicone, for implants. The TGA estimates 12,300 PIP implants were sold in Australia between 1998 and 2010.

Ms McNiece said health authorities were working with experts locally and overseas "to obtain more comprehensive information that will help further inform the risk assessment of this situation."

The TGA's updated figures for ruptured PIP implants are more in line with those collated by the Medical Error Action Group.

Three weeks ago the group had received more than 100 reports of ruptured implants. The PIP scandal has exposed the inadequacy of the data the TGA holds on breast implant recipients.

The Sun-Herald recently revealed that the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons is preparing to record the details of every breast implant patient, their surgeon and the type of operation on a national register of breast implants, which will act as an early warning system in the event of faulty devices.

The Society of Plastic Surgeons wants the federal government to fund the estimated $2 million it will cost to run the register every year.

A spokesman for the parliamentary secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King, revealed yesterday that the "establishment of medical registers for certain medical devices is under consideration".


Home insulation safety inspectors cost us $3.4 million

Another expensive legacy of "green" thinking

FLYING squads of safety inspectors charged with cleaning up the Federal Government's home insulation scheme have jetted around the country, lodging bills of up to $3000 to inspect a single home.

That's almost twice the original value of insulation installed under the scheme, which offered householders free insulation up to the value of $1600 as an economic stimulus measure.

The frequent-flying inspectors have travelled thousands of kilometres to check dodgy installations, even jetting from the Gold Coast to Melbourne, Perth to Adelaide and Brisbane to Perth.

Despite an edict from the Climate Change Department that "inspectors would not travel to an area where accredited inspectors were already present", new figures reveal more than 15,000 inspections involved travel - at a cost of $3.4 million.

But that is a fraction of the $500 million cost of safety checks for the scheme, axed after it was linked with the deaths of young installers and raised safety fears.


29 January, 2012

Refugee appeals involving false claims cost Australian taxpayers millions

DODGY claims involving fake religious beliefs, sham marriages and lies about sexuality are adding to a logjam of cases in immigration and refugee tribunals, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Desperate foreign citizens who arrive by plane are launching a barrage of appeals after Immigration officials reject their claims and seek to send them home.

The Refugee Review Tribunal - which handles only plane arrivals - had a 31 per cent jump in appeals last year while the Migration Review Tribunal, which deals with student and partner visas, had a 24 per cent increase. More than 13,000 appeals to the two tribunals in the one year overwhelmed resources.

While much of the national attention has focused on boat arrivals, many thousands more arrive by plane and are fighting to stay. Thousands of extra appeals are being lodged by plane arrivals each year, leading to a cost blow-out for taxpayers and long delays for applicants.

Frustrated tribunal members are finding some claims are blatantly faked, including a Chinese asylum seeker who said he was Catholic but didn't know who the Pope was.

Other men lied about being gay or invented elaborate stories about being pursued by criminal gangs, ex-partners or corrupt officials in an attempt to gain asylum. One Nigerian man sought protection for being part of a militant group involved in armed robbery, kidnapping and other non-political crimes.

Visa overstayers, including students, are also faking it or taking advantage of appeal delays to buy time in Australia at the expense of a clogged system. The Refugee Review Tribunal, which handles only plane arrivals, had 2966 appeals lodged last year - a 31 per cent jump.

The separate Migration Review Tribunal, which handles student, spouse, business and bridging visas, had 10,315 appeals last year - up 24 per cent.

The Federal Government was forced to provide an extra $14 million to the two tribunals for the next four years at the last Budget as appeals skyrocketed.

It can be difficult for asylum seekers to prove persecution, but some claims unravelled under questioning from tribunal members.

Monash University associate researcher Adrienne Millbank said the asylum seeker appeals system was vulnerable to false claims. "You hear about people who are full of hope and integrity and go on these review panels or decision-making (bodies) and get totally cynical," Ms Millbank said. "The whole system is totally farcical. It relies on the credibility of the story ... If you were putting someone in prison on that sort of evidence everyone would be horrified."

Combined appeals to the two tribunals have tripled in the past five years, prompting principal member Denis O'Brien to warn of delays in settling cases this year. A Canberra crackdown on student visas is contributing to the surge.

Immigration lawyers blame incorrect Immigration Department decisions, citing the high rate of successful appeal cases. Last year 41 per cent of appeals to the Migration Review Tribunal and 24 per cent to the Refugee Review Tribunal were successful.

Former attorney-general Michael Lavarch is conducting an independent review of the tribunals as the backlog mounts.

An Immigration Department memo reportedly warned at the time of his appointment last month: "The increasing delays result in uncertainty for applicants and provide an incentive for others to misuse the review process to extend their stay in Australia."

The Refugee Review Tribunal is also set to take on thousands more cases in the coming months when it resumes responsibility for assessing appeals from boat arrivals, who now use a separate system.

Separate appeals can be lodged through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Federal Magistrates Court, Federal Court, High Court and the boat arrivals system.


Tennis ace critical of homosexuality

TENNIS great Margaret Court claims homosexuality is often the result of sexual abuse. Amid a growing backlash over her opposition to same-sex marriage, the three-time Wimbledon champion told The Sunday Mail "many, many" gay and lesbian people she knew of had "been abused" and this had led to their sexual orientation.

Court, a senior minister at Perth's Victory Life Centre, has already sparked fury among gay and equal rights activists for recent comments, including that the push for gay marriage was trying "to legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices".

Mental health advocate Chris Tanti accused her of "spreading misery" and putting young gay people at risk of suicide with what he called her anti-gay comments, amid calls for her name to be removed from centre court at Melbourne Park.

But Court said: "We get them (homosexuals) in (at church) and you'll find that many, many of them have been abused". When asked if she felt such abuse led people to homosexuality, Court said: "Yes. You look at a lot of them, that's happened."

She would not be drawn on whether she felt same-sex abuse was specifically to blame, saying, "We'll start another can of worms if I start talking on all this."

Peter Rosengren, editor of the Catholic Church's The Record newspaper, batted away her claims, saying he had "never heard of any scientific study" linking abuse and homosexuality, and that "everyone has to be respected".

In a wide-ranging interview, Court also said:

"The word of God is our TV guide to life. It's not the fear book, it's a love book and it tells us how to live our lives."

"I would have won six Wimbledons not three . . . if I'd known what I know now from the scriptures, on the area of the mind."

Many migrants expected Australians "to change our laws to embrace what they have and I don't feel that's right".

"Christianity is a way forward" for Aboriginal people.

Court also said she did not regret speaking out against same-sex marriage. "I say what God says and that's why I've spoken out," she said. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. "I have a right as a minister to say that. You look at the decline in the world today. I think it's so important for values and morals and righteousness to come forth like never before."


Free schooling gets expensive in NSW

SCHOOL costs are rising so fast that one in three parents can't afford the $3000 a year needed to send a child to a public primary school.

The cost of preparing a child for the first day of school has become so expensive, more parents are seeking financial assistance from principals and teachers, or turning to charities and second-hand stores for uniforms.

A survey of 12,000 parents shows they can expect to pay up to $514 this year for uniforms, textbooks and stationery for a public primary student, rising to $739 a year in high school.

Parents sending their children to Catholic or private schools face costs as high as $892 in primary and $1355 in high school. Fees, excursions and extracurricular activities are also on the rise.

The Australian Scholarship Group figures show the total cost of high school as high as $4360 a year in the public system, $11,518 at a Catholic school and $24,376 at a private college. Their survey also found one in three families couldn't cope with the cost of their child's education.

Teachers told The Sunday Telegraph many parents struggled to pay a compulsory "book pack" fee of between $10 and $25, depending on the school, to cover exercise books, textbooks and basic school supplies.

Canley Vale Public School principal Cheryl McBride, chairwoman of the NSW Public Schools Principals Forum, said schools were seeing more disadvantaged families each year but principals could help.

"Every principal has a discretionary fund called Student Assistance," Ms McBride said. "It's not a lot of money but it's designed to assist parents who are really struggling with things like uniforms or excursions. No kid should ever miss out on their books."

Tuition fees at NSW public schools were voluntary but wearing the correct school uniform is compulsory.

The Smith Family CEO Dr Lisa O'Brien said the charity was having one of its busiest periods and had launched a Back to School appeal to sponsor an Australian student.


New dam revelations

Wivenhoe Dam operators were so busy minimising disruption to downstream bridges they failed to protect urban areas until it was too late, documents indicate.

Fernvale's Geoff Fisher Bridge, the Mt Crosby Weir, Colleges Crossing, Burtons Bridge, Savages Crossing, Kholo Bridge and Twin Bridges are used by an estimated 20,000 vehicles a day.

They are vital links for their local communities, but keeping traffic flowing pales into insignificance when tens of thousands of residents are at risk of a devastating flood.

Documents now show dam operators may have focused on protecting some bridges instead of cities on the crucial weekend before the floods - in breach of its manual - as water levels soared.

"By protecting those crossings, did they keep too much water in there until it was finally too late?" Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale demanded yesterday.

"Someone would have put pressure on not to close the Brisbane Valley Highway (the Geoff Fisher Bridge)."

The Fernvale and Surrounding Communities Action Group said the bridges were central to local life.

"I have no doubt that they were not releasing the water because of the problems that it would cause for some of those low-lying bridges," co-ordinator Dennis Ward said.

The $15 million flood inquiry was about to release its final report when The Australian newspaper last week revealed dam operators may have used the wrong strategy on the weekend of January 8-9 last year and then misled the inquiry.

A huge mass of water was released from Wivenhoe to protect the dam on Tuesday, January 11, flooding Brisbane two days later and pushing water up the Bremer River to Ipswich, according to expert inquiry evidence.

Supreme Court judge Catherine Holmes will now hold nine extra days of hearings from Thursday, and is facing demands to take a new look at whether releasing water earlier could have prevented the flood.

The bombshell revelations could expose the state to a billion-dollar payout as government-owned dam operator SEQWater is only liable if it breached the dam manual. Under the manual's strategy, known as W1, operators are required to "minimise disruption to downstream rural life".

Lead flood engineer Robert Ayre testified at the inquiry: "We take that (W1) to be interpreted as we're endeavouring to keep the low-level bridges from being submerged prematurely."

When the dam level rises to 68.5m, the manual requires escalated strategies, known as W2 and W3, which have the primary consideration of protecting urban areas from inundation.

Mr Ayre's testimony - that W3 was implemented at 8am on Saturday, January 8 - is contradicted in official reports the inquiry will only now scrutinise.


Government-created midwife shortage in NSW

A DIRE shortage of midwives is being fuelled by the absence of refresher courses in NSW, forcing people to go interstate before they can return to the profession.

Midwives who have not worked for more than five years can't renew their registration without retraining under new national laws although there is no accredited refresher course available in NSW.

They must travel to South Australia to upgrade their skills to meet new nationalised retraining laws and even then it is difficult to find the right course, the Australian College of Midwives said. "We know there are midwives out there who are really caught up in this," Australian College of Midwives NSW president Joanne Gray said.

According to Nurses Association's Judith Kiejda NSW was "crying out for midwives".

The Sunday Telegraph last week revealed nurses wanting to get back into the industry after five years had been told they must pay $10,000 for a refresher course.

The course for retraining in general nursing is only available full-time at the College of Nursing and participants must travel to Burwood to do it. The college has been swamped with inquiries and has more than doubled the number of places it has offered this month.

But only three of the students starting the next course did their original training in Australia. The rest were overseas-trained nurses wishing to get accreditation to work here, college chief executive Tracey Osmond said.

The college does not offer a midwifery refresher course because demand was low and the cost of setting up and delivering such a course was too high, she said. There is no retraining course available for midwives in NSW, Victoria or Queensland.

One midwife caught out by the changes, Lorraine Kelly of Sutherland, suggested giving nurses an extra 12 months to earn their registration back by working in the profession.

Ms Kelly said NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner's comment to The Sunday Telegraph last week that "I can't see how there is a problem" was a joke. "That is a statement from someone who is obviously out of touch with what is happening," Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kiejda said nurses with 1015 years experience would be lost to the profession because of these changes.


28 January, 2012

UWA academic Farida Fozdar told 'go back to your own country'

I think criticism of her is justified. She did apparently use the term "racist", which is very inflammatory. Many people would see it as including Hitler-type behaviour and she had no evidence that the people she described would endorse such behaviour.

There are many possible gradations of opinion about race-related matters. It may be noted, for instance, that the man who declared war on Hitler (Neville Chamberlain) was himself an antisemite of sorts -- so any implicit or explicit claim that there is such a thing as a monolithic entity called racism is unscholarly.

And any social scientist making or implying such a claim is ipso facto a very low-grade intellect. Though it might be noted that mean minds are common among sociologists. Many of them are still devoted to the writings of an obsolete economist and proven stimulator of hate named Karl Marx. The term "racist" of no use for anything except abuse. I use the term only in mockery of Leftist abuse.

I made some technical remarks about her research here on 24th. but readers may also be interested in an alternative to her kneejerk reaction to the old "white Australia policy". See here for a more philosophically sophisticated look at the issues involved

A PERTH professor whose study found people who fly Australian flags on their cars are more racist than those who don't, says she has received over 70 critical emails which include demands that she go back to her "own country".

Brunei-born University of WA Professor Farida Fozdar [Judging by the name she is ethnically an Indian Muslim], who moved to Australia when she was seven, said she was shocked by the national reaction to her study which also spread as far India and the United States.

“Some emails have been quite polite and I’ve been able to reply and we’ve actually had quite a positive interaction out of it which, I really really value," Professor Fozdar said.

"But some are straight out lots of swear words and suggesting that I should go back to where I came from.

“I’ve also had a couple of emails from people implying that I’m the Grinch that killed Christmas and that now nobody is going to fly a flag because they think it shows that they’re racist.”

Professor Fozdar, a sociologist and anthropologist, said that although the study was reported “relatively accurately” in the media, some people have misinterpreted its findings.

“What has struck me most is that the media has reported the research relatively accurately in most cases, perhaps apart from some headlines, but people have taken it up in the wrong way,” Professor Fozdar said.

“People have taken it as though I was saying that anyone who flies a flag on their car for Australia Day is racist and that flying the flag generally is a racist thing to do and that certainly wasn’t what I was saying.”

Professor Fozdar said the study revealed flag-flyers were significantly less positive about Australia’s ethnic diversity than “non-flag flyers” but that the attitude is not shared by all Australians.

“The fact that there were significant differences doesn’t mean that everybody who flys the flag feel negative towards minorities but it means that a larger proportion of them did compared with people that weren’t flying flags,” she said.

Professor Fozdar said many people ignored her findings that the majority of both flag-flyers and non-flag flyers, interviewed by her research team, felt positive about Australia’s ethnic diversity.

“But that’s not what gets picked up by people,” she said. “That statistic was there, in a lot of media reports, but people took out of it that I’m saying they shouldn’t fly a flag for Australia Day because it’s racist and that we shouldn’t celebrate Australia Day. “That was just nowhere in the research and so that is what has surprised me.”


Lucky country becomes lazy: Migrant workers to do 'dirty' jobs

I think a fairer solution would be compulsory assignment to jobs for long-term welfare claimants. Anybody can pick fruit or do cleaning

THEY clean toilets, drive taxis and wait tables - jobs that are so far "beneath" many Australians the federal government is considering importing thousands of migrant workers to fill critically short-staffed local industries.

A growing underclass is developing in Australia - a country once respected for its work ethic - where entire service professions are being left to foreigners, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Experts say high-paying mining jobs are luring young Australian workers from traditional fields such as retail and hospitality, while others would rather go on the dole than muck in and do certain jobs themselves.

"I hate to say it but there seems to be a sense of entitlement among younger Australians," Tourism Accommodation Australia boss Rodger Powell said.

"They believe jobs in the service industry are too menial or too low paid and they have been brought up to believe they are destined for something better instead of starting from the bottom and working their way up as generations did before them."

The hospitality and tourism industry is so short staffed the government is in discussions to import 36,000 cooks, waiters and bartenders to fill vacancies with another 56,000 needed by 2015, according to federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. Under the plan, tourism and hospitality employers would be able to bring in workers on a two to three year visa similar to the 457 visa program widely used in the mining sector. "Employers would need to show they are doing their best to employ and train domestic workers and paying market rates," Mr Bowen said.

While hospitality is struggling to fill vacancies, some sectors are being shunned altogether. "It's rare to have an Australian work as a commercial cleaner," Australian Cleaning Contractor's Alliance director John Laws said. "It is is not an attractive position - cleaning has traditionally been done by people who have English as a second language."

A spokeswoman for the cleaning union United Voice said cleaners were among the worst-treated workers in the country, with one of the highest turnovers of staff at 40 per cent. She said competition for contracts was so fierce some companies were bidding at a loss and using illegal practices such as cash-in-hand payments.

A black market of illegal workers is said to extend across other businesses including restaurants and general labouring.

In the carwashing sector, the majority of workers are from overseas. Indian accounting student Sanjay Kumar, who works part time at the Baywash Carwash in Summer Hill, said the high cost of living in Australia meant he had to work hard to make ends meet. "It's expensive here and I need the money so I wash cars to help but I love doing my job. Everyone is nice," he said.

YOUNG and Districts Chamber of Commerce secretary Thomas O'Brien said most fruit pickers were overseas backpackers and, while some locals did it, others were too lazy and had a "welfare state" mentality.

Orchard owner Alan Copeland said growers relied on travellers such as Chung-Jen Wang, 29, of Taiwan, and Yoshimi Ohta, 26, of Japan, "to get the fruit off" or risk financial ruin.

"People say they're taking Australian jobs," he said. "They're not taking Australian jobs, they're doing jobs Australians won't do."

University of Shizuoka graduate Ms Ohta said she enjoyed fruit picking "more than I was expecting". "It's an experience and the money is OK," she said.

NSW Taxi Council boss Peter Ramshaw said, while the industry was always looking for drivers, its problem was more of a lack of taxi licences.

And, with Australia's generous welfare system, those who can't land a high-paying job are in some cases better off on the dole.

Analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals the average cab driver takes home $527 a week after tax -- just 40c more than the $526.60 a single parent gets looking for a job.

If the same parent gives up looking and goes on parenting payments they jump to $641.50 a week -- just $7.50 less than a cleaner gets scrubbing floors 38 hours a week but still more than car detailers ($569.80) and dishwashers ($631.54).

Tertiary students, the backbone of retail and hospitality, who are eligible for rent allowance can get up to $522.10 a week, almost as much as waiting tables ($569.80) full-time.

Transport and Tourism Forum chief executive John Lee said it was a global phenomenon, with migrants and working travellers the only people "willing to get their hands dirty".

"Getting Australians to do these jobs - cleaning toilets, portering, any hard work - is impossible," he said.


Dam mismanagement coverup falling apart

FRESH claims are emerging that the floods inquiry has failed properly to investigate possible failings by dam operators during last year's floods.

A day after The Courier-Mail revealed that controversial details of the operating strategy at Wivenhoe Dam were sent to the Premier's right-hand man two days before Brisbane flooded, a top dam expert claims mismanagement of the dam potentially goes far beyond breaches of the operators' manual.

Veteran engineer Max Winders says questions are still unanswered about the reliability of the tools used by dam operators to predict inflows into the dam and dictate release strategies.

Senior flood operations engineer Robert Ayre told the inquiry these had "performed satisfactorily".

But Mr Winders has analysed the official accounts and found they paint a picture of dam operators desperately trying to make their inadequate modelling software conform with reality. "Whatever they were using to model inflows into the dam and releases was just hopeless," he said.

Mr Winders believes engineers chose to ignore rainfall forecasts during the flood because the spreadsheet they were using was not producing the results they expected. "It's what any engineer would do when your model doesn't work," he said. "You change the inputs."

Mr Winders said the engineers' forecasts appeared not even to support their explanation for the massive releases made on January 11 - that it would trigger a breach of the "fuse plugs" or safety valves, which protect the main dam. "All this about 'oh the fuse plugs will be buggered and Brisbane will be doomed' ... that doesn't show up in the model," he said.

The email reported in yesterday's Courier-Mail shows Ken Smith, then director-general of the Premier's Department, was party to key information on the strategy in use at the dam on January 10, 2011.

The Commission of Inquiry said yesterday it was responsible for blacking out Mr Smith's name. The same email is thought to have been submitted by Seqwater director of operations Dan Spiller with one of his statements. The commission said the files would be on the website by late yesterday.

Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser denied any attempt to cover up information.

LNP leader Campbell Newman said it was "looking more and more likely that the Premier may be involved". "It gets murkier and murkier, like the muddy waters of the Brisbane River after the flood," he said.


Ethanol critics push to overturn NSW fuel rule

OPPONENTS of a state government plan to ban regular unleaded petrol from July 1 are expecting to force a debate in Parliament and increase pressure on the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, to abandon the move.

Under a convention introduced by Mr O'Farrell, a petition of 10,000 signatures will trigger a debate if it is sponsored by an MP.

The Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association wrote to 1200 petrol station owners last month asking them to display a petition opposing the plan under which petrol stations will be forced to replace regular unleaded with an ethanol blend, E10.

About 6000 people have signed the petition since January 5, the association's general manager, Nic Moulis, said. Mr Moulis said he had already been discussing sponsorship of the debate with MPs, whom he declined to name, and was optimistic that one of them would agree.

The petition calls for an indefinite suspension of the switch to E10 and a "full independent review" of the Biofuels Act, under which the change is scheduled to occur.

The association argues the switch will be costly for service station owners due to the need to modify their petrol supply infrastructure. It says it will particularly hit those retailers who do not sell E10, many of which are in regional areas.

On Monday, leaked cabinet documents revealed the government had pushed ahead with the ban despite advice from several agencies that it would increase petrol prices and may be unconstitutional.

The same day the Herald revealed research that suggested up to 750,000 motorists would pay more than $150 a year extra as they would be forced to use premium unleaded because their cars were not compatible with E10.

As part of its campaign the petroleum marketers association is encouraging station owners to display a flyer saying: "Want to pay over 10 cents per litre more for your fuel?"


For the sake of Her Honour and ours, no more double standard

At 6.17am on Tuesday, very early in the news cycle, the Premier's office released a statement saying Barry O'Farrell had instructed the Attorney-General to lodge a complaint to the Judicial Commission of NSW about the magistrate Patricia O'Shane after yet another controversy in her court. It was unusual, and also good politics and good policy.

The statement elaborated: "Mr O'Farrell told cabinet yesterday … Ms O'Shane had been at the centre of a series of controversial decisions and it was time the Judicial Commission reviewed her performance."

The pattern is well known. O'Shane has attracted controversy on numerous occasions. Her most spectacular failure was her dismissal of charges against the triple murderer Michael Kanaan while criticising the police who risked their lives arresting him after a shoot-out.

The commission needs to examine not just the controversies but the number of times her decisions have been set aside by higher courts. It should look at cases such as DPP v Armstrong, in 2010, where Justice David Davies sent O'Shane's decision back to the local court with the express provision that she not hear the case again. In doing so, the judge criticised O'Shane for getting the law wrong and using "intemperate language in a way that inappropriately denigrates the evidence of the police".

No other magistrate has a notorious reputation for denigrating police evidence. No other magistrate has been the subject of so many complaints to the Judicial Commission. No other magistrate has been subject to two apprehended violence orders.

But O'Farrell should not get his hopes up. The Judicial Commission is worse than useless. It does nothing of consequence and does it slowly. It protects judges and magistrates via an opaque process deeply biased towards rationalising errors.

If there were more truth in government, the Judicial Commission would be named the Judicial Feather.

Pat O'Shane is also highly unusual among judges and magistrates in that she has been able to place great store on her Aboriginality. There is a widespread perception, which I share, that her outspoken Aboriginality has been relevant in the latitude she has been able to exercise over the years.

There is an abundance of evidence that different standards are applied to Aborigines by the law and by society as a way of compensating for past injustices. Customary law, special sentencing forums, the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle and indigenous-only programs are examples. The intent is pure but the outcome has often been counter-productive.

Just this week, the Institute of Health issued a report saying indigenous children were 7.6 times more likely than non-indigenous children to be put on protection orders and 10 times more likely to be in foster care. It is a disgrace to the status quo, especially as disproportionate child abuse in indigenous communities has existed for decades.

Yet I don't think the central flaw in the national project of improving the lives of Aborigines is being addressed or even spoken about. That flaw is the moral apartheid we accept in the name of cultural sensitivity and/or white guilt.

On Australia Day, we can ask what it means to be Australian and only the original Australians can define themselves as Australian by race. But in the thousands of years in which indigenous culture evolved, "Australia" did not exist. Australia is an entirely modern concept. So the modern definition of what it is to be Australian is post-racial. We are all Australians. We should all be treated the same. But we are not.

When it comes to indigenous issues, our legal and political system has monetised race. It has racialised the law. In doing so, it has created a problem about identity: who is an Aborigine? There is money involved in the answer. This is why the expert panel, appointed by Julia Gillard, which produced the 300-page Report on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous People has come up with a monumental blunder.

The panel has overelaborated its brief by advocating that an "advantage" clause be inserted into the constitution which reads: "Acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

This clause is the embodiment of monetising race. It enshrines moral apartheid. It invigorates the problem of defining Aboriginality. It invites the kind of racial activism and exceptionalism which the electorate despises. It dooms the referendum.


27 January, 2012

It's all clear now

I have closed my Qantas blog because it has become clear what was going on at Qantas: The constant equipment failures on Qantas planes were deliberate sabotage by Qantas maintenance staff. The union knew that the work they do was gradually going overseas and that they were all in danger of losing their jobs so in their addled way they thought that their constant undermining of Qantas reliability would lead Qantas to come to terms with them and give them "job security" -- i.e. guarantee no more transfer of maintenance work overseas.

When Mr Joyce grounded the fleet, however, it became clear to them that they were dealing with a man who was not going to buckle and who would weather the storm of taking ALL their work away.

So what happened? The constant maintenance problems Qantas was having suddenly ceased. From that time to this Qantas has not had to turn back a single flight due to equipment malfunction. It is that sudden large change which speaks louder than words in revealing what was going on. The unions realized that the equipment malfunctions were a good reason to give them all the boot so have stopped their constant sabotage.

Further evidence that the union concerned is now shit-scared for their jobs is the fact that they were first to reach a settlement with Qantas under the Fair Work Australia negotiating process. They went from being the most militant union to being the tamest. And they settled despite Qantas refusing them one of their major demands: Bring the A380 maintenance to Australia.

These are totally despicable people who repeatedly risked the lives of Qantas passsengers with their sabotage. I think Qantas should still fire the lot of them and have all Qantas maintenance done in Germany -- JR

DCP under fire over Aboriginal baby's death

Another kid dies because of the "stolen generation" myth. Welfare bodies are afraid to take black kids away from feral black families in case they are accused of "stealing" the kid

The [WA] Department of Child Protection has come under scrutiny over its handling of the case of a baby who died under her parents' care.

A coronial inquest has heard this week that while the DCP knew the little girl and her twin sister were at risk, it ignored requests from police and hospital staff for them to be taken into protective custody.

The seven-month-old died while sleeping next to her father at their home in Kalgoorlie in June 2008.

The cause of death was undetermined but was consistent with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The babies' father Shannon Benfield broke down in court today as he gave evidence to the inquest and said he had no idea of the risks of co-sleeping.

He said the DCP gave him no advice on caring for the babies and said co-sleeping was normal in Nyoongar culture.

Mr Benfield cared for the babies, and the couple's other young toddler, after their mother Terrilee Smith was involuntarily admitted to a mental ward after giving birth.

Mr Benfield admitted leaving the babies with two 11-year-old children on one occasion as he went to call his partner. He was arrested by police the same day and sent to jail for unpaid fines.

The DCP then facilitated an informal agreement with a relative to care for all three children.

But three months later, when Mr Benfield was released from jail and Ms Smith from hospital, a rift developed within the family and the couple took their children back.

The inquest heard that because no formal agreement had been reached, the couple were legally entitled to take the children from the temporary carers.

In his opening address on Monday, counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Lyle Housiaux said the DPC ignored a request from police to take custody of the twins and the couple's other child.

He said the couple had a history of domestic violence and appeared unprepared to care for their children.

"It is unclear who held authority or responsibility over these children. It would appear that there was still a very real risk of harm to the children because Mr Benfield or Ms Smith could have taken the children at any time," he said.

Former DCP Kalgoorlie team leader Gabrielle Egan told the inquest this afternoon that while the department had concerns for the children, it was deemed in their best interests to leave them with family members rather than place them into care.

She said the department played a "supportive role, in the background."

Under questioning from coroner Dominic Mulligan, she admitted that formal assessment of neither the relatives nor the children's parents had been carried out.

But she said the relatives were deemed to be suitable short-term carers, and she had no idea that the couple had planned to take the children back.

Mr Benfield said he was often left confused by his interactions with the DPC, and said it would have benefited him if an Aboriginal staff member had worked with him.

"Why put my kids away when they just could have come and helped me and Terrilee," he said.


Brisbane flood coverup

ANNA Bligh's right-hand man was told two days before Brisbane flooded about crucial information on the operation of Wivenhoe Dam that has this week sparked the reopening of the flood inquiry.

In revelations that will draw the Premier into the controversy, The Courier-Mail can reveal that Ken Smith, then director-general of the Premier's Department and Cabinet, was sent an email by Seqwater on water releases on the morning of January 10, 2011.

The email, sent by Seqwater's head of operations Dan Spiller, said Wivenhoe Dam was letting out water under a transitional strategy, not more rapid releases designed to protect Brisbane, as the inquiry has been told.

It shows that contradictions between documents at the time and Seqwater's later account of events - which have prompted the reopening of the inquiry - should have been known at the highest levels of government for months.

The email was submitted in evidence to the inquiry by Water Minister Stephen Robertson in April but the names of some recipients, including Mr Smith, were blacked out.

However, an unedited version of the email obtained by The Courier-Mail using Right to Information laws shows it was sent to Mr Smith as well as senior police officers.

The email says: "As specified in the approved Operational Procedures, the primary objective is now to minimising the risk of urban inundation (release strategy W2). This involves larger releases now, minimising the risk of even larger releases later (were the flood compartment to reach high levels)."

According to the manual in use at the time, the W2 strategy is "a transition strategy where the primary consideration changes from minimising impact to downstream rural life to protecting urban areas from inundation".

Mr Spiller's dam engineering colleagues who testified at the inquiry said operators went from a "W1E" strategy straight to W3, under which much bigger releases are allowed, and W2 was never used. Seqwater's official reports, compiled after the flood, back this version of events.

The Premier yesterday dodged questions about what she knew about the strategy being employed at Wivenhoe during the floods. "I honestly can't answer the question," she told reporters. "I was asking: 'Are people safe?'"

She denied ever receiving briefings on Wivenhoe from Mr Spiller, who stepped down from a job in her office as a policy adviser this week "so there can be absolutely no conflict".

Seqwater said it would be inappropriate to comment.

The Premier's office referred The Courier-Mail to a spokesman for Mr Robertson who said it was "precisely matters such as these that the Commission of Inquiry will interrogate at the additional public hearings next week".


Adverse findings against crooked unionist/politician

THE formal investigation by Fair Work Australia into the Health Services Union has made adverse findings against key union officials including the president, Michael Williamson, the national secretary, Kathy Jackson, and the former national secretary Craig Thomson, now a federal MP.

The three were notified last month that the workplace regulator intended to make adverse findings against them.

They were given several weeks to respond formally to the allegations. After considering their responses, the regulator will release its final report

Mr Williamson said in a text message yesterday that his lawyers had not finalised his responses but the allegations against him were "bread and butter stuff".

Mr Thomson denies receiving anything from the regulator.

Ms Jackson said she had not known she was being investigated. "I am outraged by the contraventions being alleged against me," she said. "I will prove that they are utterly without foundation. If I had been given an opportunity to answer them before now, when a draft report has been prepared, I am sure I would not be facing them."

It is understood that some of the allegations against Mr Williamson and Ms Jackson relate to administrative breaches, such as failing to comply with financial reporting obligations, and are not as serious as those against Mr Thomson, who is accused of using his position for personal advantage.

The allegations against him were received by Fair Work Australia's predecessor, the Australian Industrial Registry, in April 2009. The regulator did not start a formal investigation until March 2010. It was overseen by Terry Nassios.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing last February Mr Nassios said he had interviewed 12 people about the allegations. But Labor senators prevented him saying whether Mr Thomson was one of them.

Mr Thomson was with the union for 20 years, rising to the position of national secretary before being elected the MP for Dobell in 2007. He was re-elected in 2010.

An independent audit by BDO Kendall after Mr Thomson's departure found that during his five years as national secretary his union credit card had been used to withdraw cash advances totalling $101,533.

The advances ranged from $100 to $600 and occurred every few days for five years until November 2007. His credit card had also been used at a Sydney brothel and two escort agencies and to pay restaurants and bars and for personal items.

Mr Thomson is understood to have denied any wrongdoing during his compulsory examination by the regulator, which later refused a request by NSW Police for the contents of the interview.

Mr Thomson is also the subject of an inquiry by the Victoria Police about allegations that he misused his union credit card.

He and Mr Williamson are also the subject of a NSW Police investigation into allegations that they received secret commissions from a supplier to the union. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

The federal opposition has targeted Mr Thomson because of the government's precarious situation. Should Mr Thomson be forced to quit his seat, the government is likely to fall. But he would not have to resign unless convicted of a crime carrying a one-year jail term.

The maximum penalty for a breach under the fair work legislation is a $2200 fine. But allegations of criminal offences can be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.


26 January, 2012

"My daughter the doctor" comes seriously unglued

CMC launches criminal investigation into University of Queensland nepotism scandal, where rules went bent to allow the daughter of a university boss entry to the medical school

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission this morning launched a major criminal investigation into the University of Queensland nepotism scandal that claimed the scalps of two of Australia's leading academics.

In an escalation of the investigation that began last year, a six-member taskforce has been set up to probe possible criminal breaches and official misconduct over the university's handling of controversy.

Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield was ousted from his million-dollar job at the university last year after The Courier-Mail reported a "close family member" had been allowed into the prized medical course despite failing to qualify during an admissions exam.

Professor Greenfield's deputy Professor Michael Keniger, was also forced out despite claiming the admission was a simple misunderstanding.

The acting chairman of the CMC, Warren Strange, said the investigation would cover three key areas.

The most serious complaint revolves around certain allegations made by a former University of Queensland student to police. "This complaint has been recently referred to the CMC by the Queensland Police Service," Mr Strange said.

"Due to the seriousness of the allegations , the CMC is obliged to commence an investigation to ascertain whether or not any criminal offence has been committed by any persons associated with the making of the forced offer."

A major part of the investigation will seek to determine whether university chiefs deliberately sought to mislead the CMC and the public. "This will focus on broader aspects surrounding the university's handling and response to allegations concerning the vice chancellor and senior deputy vice chancellor, including the university's public responses to date," Mr Strange said.

He said it was in the public interest to "independently examine" issues associated with the "forced offer for entry" by a student into the university's 2011 medical program.

There would also be a quality review of the university's overall management of official misconduct matters. He said it was important to restore public confidence in the institution's ability to deal with allegations by staff and students.

"The CMC has, in line with its statutory responsibility to oversight allegations of misconduct in Queensland's public sector, been closely monitoring the university's handling of the matter," Mr Strange said.

He dismissed earlier suggestions from the university that the CMC had completed its investigations and cleared the university. "At no time has the CMC closed its oversight and, in the public interest, we have decided to take this course of action due to the seriousness of the allegations," he said.

Mr Strange said it was important the public had confidence in the university's ability to deal with any future complaints of official misconduct. He said it was not appropriate to comment further.

He declined to say whether the ousted academics or the student at the centre of the controversy would be asked to give evidence. However, a CMC source warned the commission had coercive powers.

The CMC will consider publishing a detailed report of its findings which may be tabled in Parliament.


Aussies love one thing more than beer - freedom

That must be sour news to Leftists

WE love our beer, we love our beaches and we love our barbecues. But, like the swaggie who sprang into the billabong back in 1895, we love our freedom most of all.

We asked you to name the three things that made it great to be an Aussie, and got more than 15,000 responses. Sam Kekovich can rest easy: barbecues, meat and mates all got significant support.

But freedom topped the list - and there was daylight between that and the second most popular response, beer.


Flood victims gear for court action in wake of renewed scrutiny of Wivenhoe Dam operations

FLOOD victims are gearing up for action should renewed scrutiny of the operations of Wivenhoe Dam by the flood inquiry provide grounds for class-action lawsuits.

Insurers are also taking a close interest because further hearings might provide new evidence of the timing of dam releases that could affect disputed flood claims.

The moves come as questions continue to be raised about why the top-level Commission of Inquiry overlooked crucial documents about the management of Wivenhoe Dam in the days before last year's inundation of Brisbane.

The documents, revealed in The Australian, indicate that on the crucial weekend of January 8-9 last year the dam's managers were operating under a low-level release strategy rather than a more urgent strategy to prevent flooding, contradicting evidence given to the inquiry.

Announcing the election would occur after the final flood report was released in March, Premier Anna Bligh said it was only fair that voters had a chance to know whether candidates they were voting for had adverse findings against them.

She said "the full force of the law" should apply to anyone found responsible for any cover-up or having given false evidence but stopped short of criticising the inquiry for failing to fully scrutinise evidence. "Every flood victim" deserved the truth, she said.

LNP leader Campbell Newman said it was right that the hearings were taking place amid suggestions of a cover-up. "These suggestions need to be put to bed and it is a good thing they are going to be investigated," he said.

One insurance company said last night it was already receiving legal advice on the extended inquiry "in case it changes any of the fundamental premises ... about the timing of the floods".

A spokesman for RACQ, the second-biggest domestic insurer in Queensland, which dealt with thousands of claims after the floods, said: "We're evaluating these latest developments and will be watching the hearings with interest."

In the flood-hit Brisbane Valley, members of The Fernvale Action Group, the Mid-Brisbane Irrigators and other local residents were meeting last night in Lowood to decide whether to engage lawyers to pursue action against the dam operators.

Pine Mountain nurseryman and flood victim John Craigie, who was attending the meeting, predicted it would be difficult to fund such an action because "there are lots of people out there still doing it tough".

The inquiry's report was unlikely to be a sufficient basis for a legal action and "hard evidence" would have to be found to put to a court, he said.

But in Rocklea, a group of flood-hit businesses and households expected evidence of negligence would emerge. David Stark of Flood Affected Businesses and Homes said: "If it doesn't come out at the inquiry, it's going to come out at the class action."


Sisterhood beware - silencing ideas stymies progress

When debate is marked by personal vitriol, people opt out and keep quiet

I have long considered myself a feminist and been disturbed by the parts of the sisterhood who operate like the nasty in-group in primary school. You can't be our friend because you don't wear the right pink dress. You can't be our friend unless you toe the approved party-line on abortion, childcare or sexual clothing. It is astounding to watch grown women engage in exclusionary behaviour that most of us outgrew by age 10.

But they have been at it again in the debate over the feminist credentials of Melinda Tankard Reist.

Anne Summers wrote in The Sunday Age that Tankard Reist can't be in the feminist club because she is pro-life. Summers said the core principle of feminism is women's independence, financial and reproductive. That might be Summers' definition, but it's not mine, nor would it be many other women's. Definitions aside, why can't Summers just reiterate the arguments in favour of free, legal and safe abortion, instead of seeking to ostracise someone with whom she disagrees? "You're not my friend" does not counter any anti-abortion argument. It is a non-sequitur.

Kate Gleeson, an Australian Research Council Fellow in politics at Macquarie University, then called for Tankard Reist to explain herself in The Age - in particular her work for former senator Brian Harradine.

Gleeson said that many feminists were "suspicious" of Tankard Reist because she "identifies as a pro-life feminist". Lots of people have advised politicians with whose policies many of us disagree. Why Tankard Reist has to explain herself any more than any other adviser is beyond me. And why any of us should be "suspicious" of her just because she thinks differently from us beggars belief. I don't believe in god but I feel no need to be suspicious of those who do.

Like Tankard Reist, I have been on the receiving end of the self-appointed sisterhood's ire. I used to write about motherhood and childcare; about the importance of women having time away from work to care for their own children; about the need for child-friendly work practices, as opposed to employer-friendly long hours of care and short periods of leave. Ideas that are commonplace now, but 15 years ago, fresh out of '80s feminism, were rare, if not among mothers, at least in public forums.

I used to write about that, but not now. I stopped because along with other academics I know, I couldn't be bothered dealing with the vitriol, as opposed to refutation of ideas. The insistence on playing the player, not the ball. I stick to property law these days. My ideas on strata schemes don't seem to leave anyone reaching for their garlic and crucifix.

The problem with exclusionary vitriol is that it lowers the level of public debate.

First, many people, much smarter and more insightful than me, step out of the arena. Public debate is carried on by the small pool of people thick-skinned enough to weather, or perverse enough to like, the nastiness. Now that unaccountable bloggers, sneering and abusing from the safety of their bedrooms, have entered the fray, the pool of contributors to civil public debate is even smaller.

Second, shooting the messenger fails to engage with the question at hand. "You're wrong because you don't think like us" only convinces the converted.

Finally, silencing ideas stymies progress. The essence of any functioning democracy is the ability to get as many ideas on the table as possible and then thrash them out without fear or favour. The humility to admit that you might be wrong, that someone might be able to change your mind by presenting you with a new idea, is the hallmark of a healthy intellect.

The alternatives to democratic debate are cults or repressive religions. Devotees want to be told what to think and tenets of faith must not be questioned, on threat of excommunication. I have often thought this is what some women want from feminism.

I do not know Tankard Reist and I am not pro-life, but I defend her right to express her opinions, call herself a feminist and prosecute her beliefs. That includes her right to advise senators with whom I might also disagree.

The real test of tolerance is tolerating those with whom we strongly disagree. And we will never have a right to express our own contested ideas if we do not defend others' rights to do the same.


Why we can't trust Gillard any more

The Prime Minister has let us all down, particularly young people.

Some things transcend politics and policy and the lust for power. Truth, honesty, integrity, decency and fairness are immutable values. They are the ethical substance of life. They ought to be cherished. To sell them out is to sell one's soul. It is even worse when a leader expediently betrays these values, because it undermines the entire community.

We have a duty to lead and inspire our young people, in particular. What are they, and indeed all of us, to make of a prime minister who judges it acceptable to blatantly, blithely break a written pledge in the name of base politics? This is what Julia Gillard has done by abandoning her poker-machines promise to Andrew Wilkie. It was a solemn, public undertaking instrumental to her gaining the trust and the numbers to form government, having come to the prime ministership through means that had already undermined her moral authority.

She ought to have introduced the legislation; it is unimpeachably better to honourably lose a vote on the floor of the house than to prove beyond doubt that your word is not able to be trusted.

One of the greatest thinkers and leaders of all time, Socrates, that magnificent practitioner of the dialectic method of investigation and learning, might have had such circumstances in mind when he asked: "Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?"

It is hard to think of a worse message Gillard could have delivered. It is shameful. She has pretty much forfeited her claim on respect. Her trashing of her word means she no longer merits our trust. If the Prime Minister places so little value on her honour, why should anyone else have any faith in it? It is little wonder that so many people feel so disenchanted by politics. This Prime Minister has even managed to trump the moral slipperiness of John Howard's Orwellian construct of "core" and "non-core" promises.

Media organisations need to think carefully and clearly about their role in all of this. There is a tendency for politics and policy to be covered more as blood sport than the noble contest of ideas. That is understandable, to a point, and can be entertaining for aficionados. But there is insufficient differentiation drawn between policy issues and those issues concerning the very structure and ethics within which parliamentary democracy operates. Gillard's pledge to Andrew Wilkie and, by extension, to all of us, falls into the latter category.

There is nothing wrong with a politician and, for that matter, any of us, changing position in light of new evidence. There is everything right with it. Economist and policymaker John Maynard Keynes famously said last century: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?"

Here, too, media organisations might want to be more open to the validity and need for intellectual flexibility. Public policy is about getting best results. Public policy driven by ideology, rather than the intellectualism so neatly encapsulated by the late Lord Keynes, is the antithesis of what we should be seeking.

There is another category - the expedient reversal or abandonment of policy. In such cases, where, for example, a politician changes course by opting for what is currently popular, as measured by polls and focus groups, over what is right and just, media organisations and the general public should express dismay. Gillard's betrayal on poker machines policy is not of this category. It is a change for which there is no valid excuse. Any attempt to justify it as something dictated by "the real world" or "real politics" is disingenuous and insulting, both morally and intellectually. We owe our young people, and ourselves, far better than that.

When was the last time you heard an insightful, inspiring piece of oratory from an Australian political leader, an appeal to what is pure and true within humanity, a statement of belief backed by ideas for change and betterment, a call to those immutable values wherein lie the potential greatness of people individually and collectively?

Such exhortation, such leadership, is lamentably scarce. There are probably only two in recent times I reckon are candidates for a list that ought to be replete. One is Kevin Rudd's apology to indigenous Australians. The other is Malcolm Turnbull's speech when he crossed the floor on climate change.

There is something going on in the community that some of our politicians, including the Prime Minister, seem to be missing, bunkered as they are in the battle for dominance of the current Parliament. So many people are seeking authenticity, a return to simplicity, meaning and community. It's there in the burgeoning not-for-profit sector, where as many as one in 12 people are employed. It's there in the vegie patches that are being planted in so many more back gardens. It's there in the outrage people feel about the treatment of asylum seekers. It's there in the explosion of writing and communication and creativity in what's known as social media, but is perhaps better described as open media. It's everywhere.

There has been an inversion; the real leadership is coming from the community, a community that has left Gillard behind, rather than from the body politic. And it's a community now all-but out of reach for a PM who has let down not only herself, but all of us.


25 January, 2012

Re-opening of Brisbane flood inquiry

NEW evidence suggesting Wivenhoe Dam was incorrectly managed in the days before last year's inundation of Brisbane has forced the flood inquiry to reconvene, potentially delaying state and council elections.

Premier Anna Bligh was last night seeking urgent legal advice on a "number of options" after agreeing to grant an extension to the flood inquiry's reporting timetable.

Revelations that crucial documents about the dam's operation were either not released or overlooked by the $15 million inquiry's bevy of high-paid legal professionals has forced it to reconvene hearings.

The extension could cost taxpayers a further $1.5 million. But it was unclear last night whether this could be absorbed by the inquiry's original budget.

In a written statement late yesterday, Ms Bligh said she had met with inquiry commissioner Cate Holmes and accepted her request for an extension of the reporting deadline.

The documents, in The Australian newspaper, indicate that on the crucial weekend of January 8-9 last year the dam's managers were operating under a low-level release strategy aimed at preventing inundation of rural bridges when they should have deployed the more urgent strategy under which preventing Brisbane from inundation becomes the priority.

The email trail contradicts evidence presented to the inquiry by the dam's operators, Seqwater, that they were operating under the higher release strategy and that their own logbooks entries recording that the lower level strategy was being used were incorrect.

Lead flood engineer Rob Ayre told the inquiry last year that although he recorded the lower level release strategy was being deployed in a situation report on the night of January 8, this "wasn't correct" and the strategy to protect urban areas was in place.

Seqwater has insisted any claims it had given misleading evidence to the inquiry were "baseless".

However, Seqwater's defence is likely to be rigorously tested during new hearings that the inquiry has scheduled for the next two weeks.

The Courier-Mail understands the inquiry was putting the finishing touches on its final report before the new evidence came to light.

Earlier this week Ms Bligh backed Seqwater's version of events and promised Queenslanders would see the final report before going to the polls.

The commission of inquiry initially sat for 57 days under a budget of about $15 million or $263,000 a day meaning a further six days of sittings could potentially cost taxpayers a further $1.5 million.


Thieving ambulance man keeps his job

Public servants are a protected class

A QUEENSLAND ambulance officer has kept his job despite being convicted and jailed after stealing drugs from his employer.

In the wake of mounting evidence of criminal activity within the public service, the State Opposition has called for more checks and balances and the immediate sacking of those found guilty.

The 40-year-old paramedic was working near Rockhampton where he stole methoxyflurane - a non-opioid alternative to morphine often used for acute trauma - from the Queensland Ambulance Service in November 2010.

QAS suspended him a month later and court documents show he was convicted in Brisbane Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to "stealing as a servant" in April last year, receiving a $500 fine and five days' imprisonment.

Documents obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws show he received a subsequent "formal reprimand" and demotion last June.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts defended the decision not to sack him, saying he had "a lot of confidence in the ambulance service and indeed the other services to make those judgments".

"If I was presented with a significant number of cases where everybody was simply let off with a demotion, of course I would ask questions for a bit more details," he said.

Opposition Police, Corrective Services and Emergency Services spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said that "public servants found guilty of serious criminal offences should be dismissed immediately".

"Not only is Bligh Labor's process for background criminal checks an embarrassing shambles, but even when public servants are convicted of crimes of stealing drugs, it seems they're free to keep working for the government," he said.

The paramedic caught stealing drugs was one of two ambulance officers convicted in the past two years of stealing drugs while on the job. The other officer was sacked.

Another ambulance officer who was convicted of possessing drugs and child pornography material last year resigned.

Two off-duty prison guards from Queensland Corrective Services lost their jobs after being convicted on drugs charges after being caught with steroids; another has resigned pending the outcome in court.

Queensland Corrective Services Commissioner Marlene Morison said there was "zero tolerance for staff convicted of an indictable criminal offence".


$2b Nauru detention bill overblown - Opposition

THE opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, has accused the government of grossly exaggerating the cost of reopening the detention centre on Nauru, after the federal government presented him with a $2 billion bill to implement the Coalition's key border protection policy.

After the Coalition refused further talks with the government on solving the boat crisis, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, revealed yesterday that a departmental team had travelled to Nauru this month to assess the island's ability to process asylum seekers.

It found the centres used by the Howard government had in effect been dismantled, water shortages were severe, and housing Australian staff would pose an enormous challenge.

No asylum seekers could be accommodated on Nauru for at least three months, and then only 400 would fit until extra buildings were flown from Australia, the department said.

The department put the cost of safely housing a maximum of 750 asylum seekers at $1.7 billion over four years because of limited land space, and not including an extra $316 million to rebuild the centres.

"It's ridiculous, absurd. We suggested they reopen a processing facility on Nauru, not the moon," Mr Morrison said.

He accused Mr Bowen of "trying to trash Nauru as an offshore processing option" and demanded to know why the costing was four times higher than immigration facilities in Australia, and equated to $500,000 per person.

During talks held late last year, the federal government had broached reopening Nauru if the Opposition agreed to the Malaysia refugee swap, the option favoured by the Gillard government. But that option was blocked by the High Court and would have required new legislation to make it viable.

Mr Bowen offered an inquiry into the effectiveness of temporary protection visas - another key Coalition policy - if the Coalition backed the Malaysia plan.

However, Mr Morrison yesterday pulled the plug on discussions, saying the government had failed to address the Coalition's "serious policy concerns".

The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's office said Labor had claimed, in 2008, that it cost the department $289 million to run the Nauru and Manus Island processing centres between 2001 and 2007.

Mr Bowen agreed the $2 billion cost was "enormous" and said he would publicly release details of the department's "independent" advice, telling the 7.30 Report last night: "These are the costs that would need to be in the budget if the government, any government, went down that road."

Mr Bowen said if Mr Morrison were a government minister he couldn't "just ignore the costings" because they were inconvenient.

The Opposition had been unable to nominate a third country which would accept refugees processed on Nauru, so most would end up in Australia, and Mr Bowen said the government could not justify spending $2 billion on a policy that would not work.

He accused the Coalition of not being prepared to move "a millimetre" to find a compromise on border protection.


Queensland students to learn about Australia Day

FOR the first time Queensland students will be forced to learn about Australia Day, with the national day previously being considered "optional".

As the national curriculum is rolled out across Australia - with Queensland the first to begin the new regime - students will learn about the day (January 26), its history and its meaning.

Queensland teachers have previously been offered "debates about Australia Day" as an optional example when teaching students about national traditions, but there was no mandatory requirement.

South Australia had no specific requirement to study Australia Day, while curricula in other states listed the day as an example of public holidays, without man-datory requirements for study.

Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said Australia Day was "too important a day to leave as an optional extra".

"We've got a fascinating past in this country, with stories of great bravery and determination and examples of outstanding individuals in science, sport, public life and the arts," he said.


24 January, 2012

Patriotism "racist"?

The study seems to have overlooked the origins of those who did not fly flags. Many may have been foreign-born. Perth has a very large contingent of Brits and whites from Southern Africa who may know little of Australian history. Had Australian-born people only been interviewed, there may have been no difference between flag flyers and others.

But the most important confounding variable would be social class. Middle class people are less likely to display patriotism and more "correct" in their expressed opinions

And it is after all reasonable to say that the long-term exclusion of blacks was beneficial -- given very high black crime-rates worldwide. It could be seen as rational rather than "racist"

DRIVERS who fly Australian flags on their cars to celebrate Australia Day are "more racist" than people who do not, according to research from UWA.

University of Western Australia sociologist and anthropologist Professor Farida Fozdar and a team of assistants surveyed 513 people at the Australia Day fireworks on Perth's Swan River foreshore last year to find out whether there was a link between car flag flying and racist attitudes, Perth Now reports.

Professor Fozdar said the team found that of the 102 people surveyed on the day who had attached flags to their cars for the national holiday, 43 per cent agreed with the statement that the now-abandoned “White Australia Policy” had “saved Australia from many problems experienced by other countries”.

She said that only 25 per cent of people who did not fly Australia car flags agreed with the statement.

Under the “White Australia Policy”, which was non-official government policy until after World War II, non-Europeans were barred from migrating to Australia.

The survey also found that a total of 56 per cent of people with car flags feared for Australian culture and believed that the country’s most important values were in danger, compared with 34 per cent of non-flag flyers.

Thirty-five per cent of flag flyers felt that people had to be born in Australia to be truly Australian, compared with 22 per cent of non-flag flyers. Twenty-three per cent of flag flyers believed that true Australians had to be Christian, while 18 per cent of non-flaggers agreed with the statement.

An overwhelming 91 per cent of people with car flags agreed that people who move to Australia should adopt Australian values, compared with 76 per cent of non-flaggers.

A total of 55 per cent of flaggers believed migrants should leave their old ways behind, compared with 30 per cent of non-flaggers.

“What I found interesting is that many people didn't really have much to say about why they chose to fly car flags or not," Professor Fozdar said.

"Many felt strongly patriotic about it - and for some, this was quite a racist or exclusionary type of patriotism - but it wasn't a particularly conscious thing for many.”


Premier Barry O'Farrell orders a Judicial Commission investigation into magistrate Pat O'Shane

She's been a bigoted and hostile thing for many years. As far as I can see, it's only the fact that she is part-Aboriginal that has kept her in her job. That may also be responsible for the chip on her shoulder

MAGISTRATE Pat O'Shane faces being barred from the bench after the Premier ordered her behaviour be examined by the Judicial Commission following yet another controversial decision.

Barry O'Farrell took the extraordinary step after Ms O'Shane dismissed a charge against an African-born Australian man who was alleged to have assaulted a paramedic.

In her questioning of paramedic Christopher Martin, Ms O'Shane suggested that he didn't like "blacks".

It is at least the second time Ms O'Shane has been referred to the Judicial Commission, which has already heard magistrates Jennifer Betts and Brian Maloney fight for their careers in the past 12 months.

Mr O'Farrell said Ms O'Shane had been at the centre of a series of contentious decisions and it was time the Judicial Commission reviewed her performance. He particularly took issue with the fact the magistrate refused to hear evidence from Mr Martin's co-worker.

"We cannot stand by and allow our emergency services workers to be assaulted," Mr O'Farrell said. "They are entitled to go about their work without being injured or assaulted. And if someone does assault ambulance and other emergency workers I would expect those officers to have the support of the court system when charges are laid."

"I am not going to allow assaults on our emergency services workers to become acceptable to the courts and that is why I want the Judicial Commission to review this case."

Ms O'Shane dismissed the charge of common assault against 30-year-old Kasian Wililo, saying to police prosecutor John Kahn: "I don't think you've got a case Sergeant" because she said Mr Martin had initiated "the physical interaction" with Mr Wililo after he wanted to remove him from the ambulance because he had spat on the floor.

Mr Martin told the court he had called Mr Wililo a "filthy pig" for spitting. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph yesterday, Mr Wililo said the paramedic called him a "black pig".

"After the accused spits on the floor, (Martin) says 'get out of my ambulance, you filthy pig' ... and because the accused doesn't want to get out of the van Martin drags him out. You do not have a case," Ms O'Shane said.

Under NSW law, Ms O'Shane will be forced to retire in June 2013, her 72nd birthday.

Senior police and ambulance officials confirmed they would appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court.

Mr O'Farrell said he had directed Attorney-General Greg Smith to ask the commission to determine whether there has been a "pattern of decisions by Ms O'Shane that warranted action".

If the commission believes the complaint has merit, it could "ultimately refer a matter to the NSW parliament to consider whether Ms O'Shane should be removed from her role as a magistrate".

In October, the upper house voted 22-15 to keep bipolar sufferer Mr Maloney in a job. Earlier last year, it voted for Ms Betts to remain a magistrate despite complaints about her.

In both of those matters, the complaints were lodged by members of the public. In the matter of Ms O'Shane, it has come directly from the Premier's office.

The Judicial Commission chief executive Ernie Schmatt yesterday declined to reveal how many times Ms O'Shane had been referred to them, citing confidentiality. She was referred to the secretive body after she jailed a Sydney businessman for contempt of court during a civil case in 2004 but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Police prosecutions boss Superintendent Tony Tricter said the unit was already "preparing a request" to the DPP to appeal the case.

In 2010 Supreme Court judge David Davies overturned a judgment Ms O'Shane had made in dismissing several charges against a man accused of wrestling with police officers by saying the two officers had "coloured" and "fabricated" their evidence. The Supreme Court found that Ms O'Shane had failed to make a finding based on "the correct legal view of the arrest."

Ms O'Shane yesterday presided over a civil hearing in the Downing Centre and was angry at being photographed.


Inflexible public system renews faith in religious schools

In recent decades, the easy habits of local public comprehensive schools, considered for so long to be intrinsic for social democracy, are being replaced by anxious aspirations to private schooling. And, when we say private schooling in this country, we mean religious schooling.

Indeed, when it comes to Australian schooling, reports of the death of religion have been greatly exaggerated. About 30 per cent of students are enrolled in a religious school and for secondary education the number is much greater. The tide has turned on Matthew Arnold's old prediction of a "long melancholy withdrawing roar of the sea of faith", with an incoming swell that has not retreated for 20 years.

There are many implications of this trend but, like new wine into old wineskins, the antiquated language of public and private, secular and religious, four legs good, two legs bad can no longer contain them.

It is no longer sufficient to depict this great change as just a negative "white flight" or "suburban middle class fantasy" that might subside if David Gonski's report into education funding threw more money at public schools. Education is much more than economics, and this great sea change needs much more nuanced analysis and a new language.

One curious example is the issue of text censorship in schools. The old lore would have it that religious schooling is more repressive than its secular cousin but, in the case of film censorship, NSW state schools are now proving more restrictive.

According to the Department of Education and Training, "Material classified M should only be considered for students who are 15 years and over … Decisions about whether the use of M classified materials in the school will be approved must be made by the principal." This is despite the Federal Office of Classification recommendation that "School students under 15 may legally access this material because it is an advisory category".

As a result, no NSW public year 9 students (typically 14-15) can be shown an M-rated film (whether they are 15 or not), and since the approval process is laborious, teachers are also unlikely to screen one for year 10 students (typically 15-16). That means no Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, Roman Polanski's Macbeth or Oliver Parker's Othello; no blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings (teaching fantasy), Master and Commander (teaching history of exploration), The Day After Tomorrow (environment/ sustainability), Malcolm X and Mississippi Burning (history of civil rights) and no screening of many significant documentaries on WWI and WWII.

I observed how irritating this was for NSW state teachers last year in my role as a commercial teacher-trainer for the new Australian Curriculum. At seven events for about 200 secondary teachers, state school teachers complained that they were unable to screen recommended texts for years 9 and 10 because they were M-rated. Religious school teachers, however, said they did screen M-rated videos for years 8-10 students, providing parental permission notes, and discussing challenging moral and spiritual issues with their classes. They rarely consulted their principals.

This surprising trend had already been observed in my Macquarie University study of religious school English teachers: a paradox of rich educational plurality, operating within schools based on intellectually exclusivist religions.

Justifiably, teachers thought that the ban created unfair gaps between public and private. The hyper-aware moralities of religious schools actually enabled their teachers to walk a fine text-selection line between education quality and moral risk and to walk their students along the same path. This was in stark contrast to what teachers perceived as a bureaucratic, risk-averse mentality for state education.

So, as we unwrap our back-to-school box this year, we find new luminous oddities that the old colour scheme of public and private can no longer name. Thousands will be donning new and strange religious school uniforms for the first time, with all of the profound changes for Australia that this entails.

Text censorship is but one issue that belies the dogma that the shift is necessarily negative but confirms it is intricately complex and changing, deserving a more research-based, nuanced vocabulary.


Bats win park war because of Greenie laws

They are not remotely "endangered" so local authorities should be allowed to shoot them if necessary

FLYING foxes have officially won the war in Charters Towers, claiming the town's historic park as their own.

Charters Towers Mayor Ben Callcott has conceded defeat against the thousands of bats that invaded Lissner Park about 11 years ago and have since refused to leave.

He said unless state legislation was changed, which prevented the council from interfering with the colony, the council had simply run out of options. Locals claim the bats are a major health hazard, fearing they may spread disease, and are fed up with living with the stench and noise from the colony, which now numbers about 15,000.

Charters Towers Regional Council has been granted 15 damage mitigation permits by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) over the years, to disperse the bats using noise, fogging and lighting.

An attempt to muster the bats using a helicopter was scuttled late last year by the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority over safety concerns. The council has applied for a 16th permit to move the bats, but Cr Callcott said their best efforts had simply shifted the animals to other parts of the town, where they had become even more of a problem.

"Charters Towers City Council spent $250,000 harassing them and it didn't do anything other than distributing them into suburbia," Cr Callcott said. "I'm not prepared to spend that kind of money to achieve the same ending.

"We may never get permission to muster them, so in that case, let them lodge in Lissner Park, where at least people can choose whether they get underneath them.

LNP leader Campbell Newman, who visited Charters Towers last year, promised the town "the bats in Lissner Park will go".

Cr Callcott said a law change was the only solution. "The bats under the present legislation have defeated us," he said.

Charters Towers Action Group Against Flying Foxes spokesman Jim Henderson, who lives near the park, said the bats were creating a health hazard and preventing locals and visitors from enjoying public facilities. "Nobody wants to come into the park and sit under those tables," he said.

Mr Henderson said residents' pleas to the State Government for help moving the flying foxes on had fallen upon deaf ears. "They've ignored us and ignored us since I've been fighting it," he said.

Vikki King, who lives opposite the colony, said she wanted the right to remove the bats from her own backyard. "Three or four weeks ago, every tree was chock-a-block in my yard here," she said. "The bat shit is everywhere and it just eats everything."


23 January, 2012

"Green" petrol switch to leave 750,000 NSW motorists out of pocket

UP TO 750,000 drivers in NSW will be forced to pay at least $150 more for petrol each year when the government bans regular unleaded petrol in July.

NSW is the only government in Australia to ban regular unleaded petrol and replace it with fuel blended with 10 per cent ethanol.

But modelling by the University of Queensland and the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce obtained by the Herald shows 25 per cent of NSW cars cannot use ethanol fuel and will be forced to use premium fuel instead.

With support from the Liberal and National parties, the former Labor government passed legislation in 2007 banning unleaded fuel, arguing that ethanol-blended fuel was better for the environment.

The Coalition supported the laws despite the fact that among those bearing the extra cost would be nearly 100,000 NSW motorists who drive cars made before 1986, many of whom live in rural Australia.

Almost all motorcyclists in NSW and drivers of several popular makes and models, such as all Ford Lasers and many Mazdas made before 2005, will also have to pay more as their vehicles cannot run on ethanol-blended petrol.

Anton le Rutte, of the Boat Owners Association of NSW, said most boats would also be unable to use ethanol fuel because it absorbed moisture and disintegrated and had a risk of starting fires in older boats.

At an average extra of 10¢ a litre for premium fuel, the average motorist will be paying $150 more a year. For a car with a 60-litre fuel tank, filling up once a week, it will cost an extra $300 a year.

The study was prepared for the ethanol industry. It used data from 2009 to project that, as of last year, only 75 per cent of 3 million passenger vehicles and motorbikes in NSW would be able to run on ethanol-blended fuel.

The extra cost to be borne by motorists was scarcely mentioned in the parliamentary debate on the legislation.

Tony Kelly, then the minister for rural affairs, said motorists who had to switch to premium unleaded would "enjoy a higher-octane, cleaner-burning fuel".

Andrew Stoner, the Deputy Premier, supported the legislation, despite airing industry concerns that some motorists would have to pay 12¢ a litre more for "nothing other than government policy".

The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, did not respond to questions about whether he was concerned about the extra costs motorists would face or whether he had considered policies to offset them.

Kathleen Cash, a graphic designer from Rosebery, was totally unaware that regular unleaded petrol was being phased out and that she would have to pay more for premium fuel.

Ms Cash is thinking about trading in her 1998 Daewoo, which cannot run on ethanol-blended fuel, but her son looks likely to inherit it. "I don't really understand why it's going to cost more for older cars," she said. "I think it's really unfair that people who have older cars have to pay more".


Slippery Slipper props up Julia Gillard Government after Andrew Wilkie withdraws support

Another turncoat conservative

PETER Slipper is effectively the man holding up the Gillard Government. And the Sunshine Coast turncoat is set to come under renewed pressure from local voters over his move to accept the Speaker's role now that key Independent Andrew Wilkie has abandoned the Labor ship over pokies' reform.

Mr Slipper has twice declared he wouldn't have taken the Speaker's job if it would "guarantee the Government's endurance in office". He now finds himself in that position, keeping Prime Minister Julia Gillard off the knife's edge, despite 34,000 Sunshine Coast voters sending him to Canberra under the LNP banner.

Labor MPs lined up yesterday to trumpet Ms Gillard's plans for a trial of pre-commitment technology in the ACT - the policy that broke her deal with Mr Wilkie.

Those thrilled with the deal include Labor MPs in club-heavy seats, who were dogged by anti-Labor campaigning from Clubs Australia.

It comes as new figures reveal the 12-month trial will cost taxpayers more than $85 million, including $36 million in "participation fees" for venues and millions more than $50 million for technology infrastructure.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott lashed out yesterday, claiming the PM had secured her spot in The Lodge under false pretences because she ultimately walked away from the deal with Mr Wilkie that originally ensured his vote.

"Andrew Wilkie ... gave the PM the keys to The Lodge, and now he has been betrayed by the person who he helped," Mr Abbott said.

He said the PM's parliamentary majority also rested on besieged Labor MP Craig Thomson, who is under police investigations in two states. However, Mr Wilkie has already said he wants the Government to serve a full term for "stability".

Mr Slipper, who left the LNP in November citing "bullying", took up the Speaker's job as an Independent and boosted the PM's control of the House by returning Labor's Harry Jenkins to the backbench and removing himself from the Coalition benches.

Mr Slipper has only spoken publicly twice since his controversial defection, both times stating he took the job on the understanding that none of the other Independents backing Ms Gillard planned to switch sides.

He said he believed Labor would stay in power "regardless" of whether or not he accepted the promotion.

"I would not have accepted this position if my election to this office was going to guarantee the Government's endurance in office," he said last year. Mr Slipper would not comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Greens will seek to amend or introduce laws imposing a maximum $1 bet on all poker machines.


Fear of deadly rage over yapping keeps dog owners awake at night

In that case they should get their dogs trained

FEW Sydneysiders are unfamiliar with the incessant, high-pitched sound of a dog barking from a neighbouring yard.

While he has a face that could melt butter, Gizmo can make some serious noise. "I'm constantly worried about my neighbours. They all have my phone number and I tell them to call me if he's ever bothering them," said Pippa Williams, who fits Gizmo with a citronella non-barking collar, walks him daily and gives him enrichment toys to minimise his barking.

Luckily Gizmo's neighbours in North Sydney are more understanding than those of another Maltese terrier, Lilly.

She was kidnapped from her north shore home recently and found drowned near the marina in Roseville, an atrocity her owner, father-of-two Tom Quan, believes was committed by an irate neighbour fed up with Lilly's barking. But more frightening was the vitriol it stirred around his Gordon neighbourhood.

"There are few things that send otherwise genteel, peace-loving suburban folk into a murderous rage more than the endless yapping of a little fluffball dog," read one comment in an article about Lilly's death in the local newspaper. "No one minds the occasional woof-woof of a real dog because they at least know when to shut up."

"Many a night I've been awake imagining ways to dispose of [our neighbour's yapping dog] and restore some peace to our lives. And I LOVE dogs," another said.

Lilly's death was just one of many incidents, from poisonings to stabbings, to hit dog owners in urban areas recently amid rising rage against yappy dogs. Higher density living and the popularity of smaller breeds mean dog issues are the most frequent complaints to councils.

Kelpies and German shepherds were the most popular breeds in the '90s. City-friendly Maltese terriers are the most popular these days, a decade-long study by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found.

The percentage of people whose dog rarely or never shows bad behaviour has fallen from 84 per cent to 77 per cent.

Smaller dogs are not always louder but they are more reactive and owners tend to intervene later as they are deemed less frightening, said Sharon Birrell, a dog trainer with Bark Busters. They are also more likely to live in homes where neighbours are closer and more easily annoyed. "We get a lot of calls out to townhouses," said Ms Birrell. "I've had owners very scared that people will get violent or throw poison over the fence. It creates an enormous amount of anxiety."

Mr Quan spent $500 on a dog whisperer, but it failed to quell the hatred. Ms Williams said she goes to great lengths to be considerate.

But there also needs to be more understanding, said Kersti Seksel, president of the Australian Companion Animal Council, who advocates better housing design to mitigate noise. "We possibly have expectations of dogs that aren't realistic. They're animals and they're going to have emotions and feelings."


Insane NSW education bureaucracy

CROSSING the Murray felt significant. It was sunny and, after years, we were coming home to good ol' Newsouth, where it is always sunny and always Saturday morning, and the unimpeachable joys of childhood dwell in a never-to-be-disturbed bliss. The real significance hit later.

If I were a plumber, accountant or massage therapist, it would have been irrelevant: one could live in Melbourne one week then move to Sydney the next and simply front up to an employer and say: "Yep, I'm fully qualified, vastly experienced and I've just moved interstate." If the paperwork was up to scratch and they fitted the job description, it'd be: "No worries. Start on Monday."

Teachers, however, are different. We are what you might call the professional equivalent of refugees, fleeing the presumed disastrous condition of education of other Australian states.

Of course, before you can set foot inside a school, you're whipped off to the Institute of Teachers, where sniffer dogs investigate your deodorant status. That done, you front up to a corpse-like quasi KGB agent with perfect dentures and an interest in your credentials bordering on the pathological.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for caution; I'm cool with the fact that they need to see every piece of documentation I've received since I was 18, potentially even shopping dockets and bus tickets. This is standard bureaucratic fare.

After the interview, I go home and wait. And wait. Five weeks on, there's a letter: "Further documentation required." Nothing wrong with being thorough.

"Mother's birth certificate." Could be tricky. I google "Irish Embassy". Another six weeks and the necessaries are in the mail, with a note confessing how hard it is to feed a family without a job and could they maybe speed the process up a tad?

Ninety-seven days exactly after that fateful river crossing, I receive permission to teach in the state of NSW. My wife and children are too weak with hunger to join in the celebration. I ring the Institute and thank them warmly, but I still have one query concerning the 40 per cent cut in my rate of pay.

"A New Scheme teacher," the officer explains, "is a graduate teacher, or equivalent."

"Then there must be some mistake, because I've been a teacher for 20 …"

"Or equivalent," she repeats. "You haven't taught in NSW for the past five years." "Yes but," I begin. "In New South Wales."

And the articulation of that name is nothing less than the passing of a sentence. I break down and beg forgiveness. She's not sure what the policy is on that, but she'll get back to me.


22 January, 2012

Amazingly idiotic Leftist bureaucracy

Nurses forced to pay $10,000 to work in hospitals -- because of new rules brought in under the Labor government

NSW is screaming out for hundreds of nurses but those who've been on extended leave must pay $10,000 for a refresher course before they can apply for a job. Almost 1000 nurses trying to get back into the profession after five or more years have been told they cannot work until they take the costly course under nationalised retraining laws.

Concerns the course is expensive, is only offered fulltime and requires those outside Sydney to relocate to Burwood has forced the board implementing the requirements to seek legal advice on whether they are in breach of anti-discrimination laws.

The potential legal snag comes as the O'Farrell Government tries to fill 1400 new nursing positions by next year. The NSW Nurses' Association estimated about 800 nursing positions are currently vacant across the state.

It says skilled nurses would leave rather than find the money and time to do the course but Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the measures would improve the skills base by keeping nurses' knowledge up to date. "I can't see how there is a problem," she said. [What a drongo!]

Applications to the College of Nursing in Burwood for the program which assesses the competence of nurses whose registrations have lapsed or whose qualifications are not recognised in Australia, reveals an extremely low uptake of the program from local nurses.

Of the 197 applicants on the waiting list, 189 were internationally educated nurses seeking qualification in Australia. Only eight were Australians seeking to retrain after letting their registration lapse. The people most affected by the new laws were nurses returning from maternity leave, said Nurses' Association assistant secretary Judith Kiejda.

While they were raising children, NSW law came into line with other states and from July 2010 anyone who had not worked for five years was required to undertake the retraining course.

"It just seems to me to be tragic that we are losing people through the cracks because they just can't afford this huge cost to go back into the profession and they probably just need to brush up on their skills," Ms Kiejda said.

The state government was offering 25 scholarships worth $6000 to help nurses do the course but Ms Kiejda said that would not address the issue.

College of Nursing chief executive Tracey Osmond said indemnity insurance was the reason for the high course cost.


New Zealand convicted criminals slip into Australia to wage crime spree

KIWI criminals convicted of serious crimes including manslaughter and rape in their home country have slipped into Australia and waged a shocking crime spree here.

Border checks are so lax that New Zealand offenders who have served lengthy jail sentences are simply ticking a box claiming they have no criminal history. A computer alert system at the border failed to detect violent and repeat offenders who went on to commit further serious crimes in Australia.

One Kiwi roofer was jailed for 11 years in New Zealand but was waved into Australia and spent his first four months working at the Prime Minister's Sydney residence, Kirribilli House, when John Howard was in office.

Jonathan Rountree admitted he lied on his passenger arrival card and went on to amass a lengthy Australian record for drug dealing, trafficking and assault.

Another Kiwi entered Australia despite being jailed for nine years in New Zealand for manslaughter and rape after a violent sexual assault. The offender, who cannot be named, admitted he lied about his criminal history on his arrival card and was later the subject of five domestic violence orders.

The cases are detailed in Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions and court cases from the past five years. But they are the tip of the iceberg because the tribunal only looks at cases where people appeal against their visa cancellations.

Kiwis can cross the Tasman on a Special Category Visa under an arrangement to allow freer travel between Australia and New Zealand. Anyone sentenced to a year or more in jail is not eligible for the visa. Immigration can also refuse entry to anyone who fails a character test due to their criminal history.

A global Movement Alert List computer database containing about 630,000 names is supposed to flag people who may be a risk because of serious criminal records. But of the 1.36 million New Zealanders who came to Australia last year, only 175 were turned back at the border for failing the character test. In the three years to December 2011, more than 220 Kiwis who had been allowed into Australia had their visas cancelled for failing the character test.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government was working with New Zealand to improve sharing of criminal histories to prevent criminals moving between the countries at will. Mr Bowen used his special powers to remove four Kiwis last year after they had won appeals against deportation decisions.

Dylan Murphy Kasupene, a drug addict who served 18 months' jail in New Zealand for car theft, shoplifting, burglary and threatening behaviour with a weapon, was jailed in NSW for break and enter, larceny, stealing, shoplifting and public nuisance before being deported.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said screening safeguards were inadequate. "Australians are rightly appalled when people who come here on visas from any country and are granted that privilege abuse it," he said.

NSW jails last year housed 304 New Zealanders.

The issue of information sharing between the two countries was reignited after convicted New Zealand fraudster Joel Morehu-Barlow came to Australia and allegedly embezzled more than $16 million from Queensland Health.


Julia breaks another promise

JULIA Gillard's axing of the pokies reform promise that secured her power has triggered independent Andrew Wilkie's abandonment of the Labor minority Government. The move means the PM is back to a one-seat buffer in the event of a no-confidence vote that could force an election.

Mr Wilkie said yesterday: "Frankly, a deal's a deal and it must be honoured." "Our democracy is simply too precious to trash with broken promises and backroom compromises. So I will walk, take my chances and so be it," Mr Wilkie said.

The Tasmanian MP scrapped his agreement to automatically support the Government on Budget Bills and defend it against Coalition motions of no-confidence after Ms Gillard tore up her agreement with him to overhaul poker machine laws - meaning there will be no $1 bet limits, and only a limited trial of technology that forces punters to pre-program how much they are prepared to lose.

The decision by the Government to break its commitment to Mr Wilkie followed a major campaign by Clubs Australia and fierce lobbying from Crown casino boss James Packer.

Ms Gillard defended the compromise plan, arguing the support among other key independents was not there for further reforms. "You do have to make compromises, that's the nature of politics," she said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the outcome only reinforced that the Prime Minister had secured the keys to the Lodge under false pretences.

But Mr Wilkie said he would not back Tony Abbott or an early election in the interests of stability, with the Prime Minister retaining a one-vote buffer even if Mr Wilkie were to switch camps.

Government spin doctors seized on Mr Wilkie's pledge not to back a no-confidence motion that could spark an election unless serious misconduct or corruption was proved, arguing this was similar to his original deal with the PM.

If the Liberals' Peter Slipper had not defected for the job of Speaker late last year the Prime Minister would now be be on a knife edge, but the political coup rendered Mr Wilkie's repeated threats to bring down the Government hollow and cleared the way for Ms Gillard to walk away from the agreement.

Hopes of a $1 bets compromise to reduce losses rather than forcing punters to register to bet were rejected by the Government, which said it would cost $1.5 billion.

The compromise was a first step, Mr Wilkie said, but remained "in breach" of the Prime Minister's original agreement with Mr Wilkie to deliver by 2014. "I can no longer guarantee supply and confidence for the Government because the Prime Minister has told me she can't honour the promise to introduce mandatory pre-commitment on poker machines by the end of 2014," Mr Wilkie said.

"Consequently, I regard her to be in breach of the written agreement she signed, leaving me no option but to honour my word and end my current relationship with her Government."

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon agreed: "How can you respect someone who backstabs the very person that backed her into office?"

Clubs Australia, whose anti-reforms campaign cost millions, welcomed the Government's trial. "Clubs are not seeking the status quo on gambling policy," executive director Anthony Ball said. "However, this reform must be evidence-based and should not destroy the club and hotel industry as we know it."


Pro-life push in Labor Party ranks

LABOR'S anti-abortion forces are rallying behind a new ginger group that will promote and campaign for candidates who are against abortion and euthanasia.

Labor for Life was formed last month to link members with conservative views and, partly, in response to the party's official recognition of gay marriage.

The move is being seen by progressive MPs as a sign Labor's socially conservative rump is muscling up for a fight on issues such as abortion.

Federal MPs who have given their support to the organisation include the Tasmanian senator Helen Polley, who opposed the push for gay marriage at the national conference.

The group's Facebook page also lists the 29 politicians and organisations it views as sympathetic including Senator Polley, the NSW senator Ursula Stephens and the Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke.

"It's really important that members of the ALP who have these views have a group and have people they can connect with," the group's convener, Simone McDonnell, who has previously been a federal Labor candidate in South Australia, said.

"It's really important that we support a diverse range of views, particularly on moral issues."

The group also has links to the largest union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, and its staunchly anti-abortion boss Joe de Bruyn.

In 2008, Mr de Bruyn described abortion as the "deliberate destruction of human life" when he clashed with former prime minister Kevin Rudd over a decision to drop a ban on foreign aid funds spent on family planning services.

Labor for Life received a boost at last month's Labor Party national conference where members who spoke against the proposal to recognise gay marriage, including Mr de Bruyn, begged for tolerance for their views.

Ms McDonnell said it was important Labor remained a "broad church".

This was an argument made repeatedly by delegates to the national conference who fear support for progressive issues such as gay marriage and abortion will alienate Labor's more conservative supporters.

Senator Claire Moore, a long-time campaigner for reproductive choice within the party, said she had been expecting a formal anti-abortion group to establish itself for some time.

"It's a message to those of us who feel differently, that we can never be complacent," Senator Moore said.

"We have an increasingly conservative number of parliamentarians. There's a lot of people with less progressive views [than before]."

She noted that Labor for Life also campaigned against the death penalty, making it hard for pro-choice MPs to condemn it out of hand.


21 January, 2012

I'll turn back every boat, says Australian conservative leader

A COALITION government will order the navy to turn around asylum-seeker boats and return them to Indonesia in an assertion of Australian border protection, Tony Abbott revealed. The Opposition Leader is determined to impose a new and tougher policy whereby Australia uses its navy to secure its borders.

If elected prime minister, Mr Abbott will tell Jakarta Australia will no longer passively accept the arrival of asylum-seeker boats from that country, The Australian reported last night.

A radical policy departure, this has far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for Australia-Indonesia relations.

In recent talks with his colleagues, Mr Abbott said: "This is a test of wills and Australia has lost. "What counts is what the Australian government does, not what it says. "It is time for Australia to adopt turning the boats as its core policy."

Mr Abbott said this would involve an increase in the number of naval vessels to force the boats back, including the capacity to remove asylum-seekers from deliberately sabotaged boats before repairing those vessels to enable the boatpeople to be returned to Indonesia.

The Coalition has also ruled out a political deal to revive Labour's Malaysia Solution and is planning a tougher regimen of temporary protection visas.

This includes a quota on the number of permanent visas issued to temporary protection visa holders to favour authorised asylum-seekers and to provide a disincentive to people making the journey by boat.


New Zealand convicted criminals slip into Australia to wage crime spree

KIWI criminals convicted of serious crimes including manslaughter and rape in their home country have slipped into Australia and waged a shocking crime spree here.

Border checks are so lax that New Zealand offenders who have served lengthy jail sentences are simply ticking a box claiming they have no criminal history. A computer alert system at the border failed to detect violent and repeat offenders who went on to commit further serious crimes in Australia.

One Kiwi roofer was jailed for 11 years in New Zealand but was waved into Australia and spent his first four months working at the Prime Minister's Sydney residence, Kirribilli House, when John Howard was in office.

Jonathan Rountree admitted he lied on his passenger arrival card and went on to amass a lengthy Australian record for drug dealing, trafficking and assault.

Another Kiwi entered Australia despite being jailed for nine years in New Zealand for manslaughter and rape after a violent sexual assault. The offender, who cannot be named, admitted he lied about his criminal history on his arrival card and was later the subject of five domestic violence orders.

The cases are detailed in Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions and court cases from the past five years. But they are the tip of the iceberg because the tribunal only looks at cases where people appeal against their visa cancellations.

Kiwis can cross the Tasman on a Special Category Visa under an arrangement to allow freer travel between Australia and New Zealand. Anyone sentenced to a year or more in jail is not eligible for the visa. Immigration can also refuse entry to anyone who fails a character test due to their criminal history.

A global Movement Alert List computer database containing about 630,000 names is supposed to flag people who may be a risk because of serious criminal records. But of the 1.36 million New Zealanders who came to Australia last year, only 175 were turned back at the border for failing the character test. In the three years to December 2011, more than 220 Kiwis who had been allowed into Australia had their visas cancelled for failing the character test.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government was working with New Zealand to improve sharing of criminal histories to prevent criminals moving between the countries at will. Mr Bowen used his special powers to remove four Kiwis last year after they had won appeals against deportation decisions.

Dylan Murphy Kasupene, a drug addict who served 18 months' jail in New Zealand for car theft, shoplifting, burglary and threatening behaviour with a weapon, was jailed in NSW for break and enter, larceny, stealing, shoplifting and public nuisance before being deported.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said screening safeguards were inadequate. "Australians are rightly appalled when people who come here on visas from any country and are granted that privilege abuse it," he said.

NSW jails last year housed 304 New Zealanders.

The issue of information sharing between the two countries was reignited after convicted New Zealand fraudster Joel Morehu-Barlow came to Australia and allegedly embezzled more than $16 million from Queensland Health.


20 January, 2012

The good old days

Comments from an old timer -- "Mac"

I can remember travelling from Cairns to Mt Morgan via the Bruce Highway in 1956 with mum and dad, I was 9 year old at the time.

The old man had a Ford ute and I had to sit in the back. There wasn't to much tar on the roads and as was always stated back in those day the road only became half decent when you got past Rockhampton.

I have never seen so many washouts and detours in all my life and haven't since. As you said, the motorists don't know they are alive today.

Motels were non existent and we camped on the side of the road. The old man being an old PMG linesman working in camping parties had plenty of practice whacking up a fly in double quick time. Mum and I slept in the back of the ute and the old man bunked down on the ground.

We were camped somewhere along the Marlborough stretch when mum woke me up and said not to make a noise. I looked over the side of the ute and here was the old man laying stock still while an at least six foot brown snake crawled across his chest, he never moved a muscle.

After the snake moved on its merry way the old man got up as if nothing had happened. He was always a pretty cool customer -- probably used to dramas working on Western Queensland properties outside Dulacca and Injune in his younger days, after coming out from Scotland, in places where half decent medical assistance was miles away and you could imagine what the roads out West were like then and it was all horse and buggy.

The old man almost died when he was working outside Roma, his appendix burst. They took him into Roma on the back of a dray and Arnold Feather the hospital doctor who was at the pictures (silent movies), came out and had a look at him and said take him to the hospital I will attend to him after the movies have finished.

The old man carried a massive indented scar on his side until the day he died and they whinge about having to wait an hour to see a doctor for a cut toe.

I can recall as a telegram boy in Roma walking into the Roma Hospital with telegrams and the first thing that greeted me was a big framed picture of Dr Arnold Feather, long gone by then and I used to think you almost killed my old man.

Not long after dad's experience he had to bring a bloke into Roma with a compound fracture of the leg. After Feather had a go at him he told my old man he thought of crawling out of the hospital, he said that bastard, Feather, shouldn't even be allowed to treat a horse.

After our road trip to Mt Morgan and the snake episode, mum put the foot down and it was Brisbane or nothing after that by train or plane with the assistance of the old Reg 98.

Every time I hear someone having a go at the roads, the so called black spots and the hospital service in Queensland I think you pricks, mostly Victorians who come here to retire and bring all their medical complaints with them, swamping the health system with piddling complaints, you don't know what hardship is.

There are plenty of the bastards living down here -- a lot of five bob millionaires who bitch about everything and then come out and start a save the bats (flying foxes) campaign or some koala habitat where there is not a koala within a bulls roar of the place.

As Billy Connolly would say if he was dealing with them, f*ck off, now f*ck off and don't come back. They reckon we mellow with age, sh*t, I think I am becoming more intolerant the older I get.

The whingers should consider themselves lucky to drive on todays roads - wonder what they would make of 1953's

The Australian economy withstood the global financial crisis but a Leftist government is too much for it

It survived the global financial crisis and won acclaim for its strength in adversity. But the Australian economy now finds itself at the crossroads, spooked by a jobs crisis not seen since Paul Keating's "recession we had to have".

Australia's economy shed 100,000 jobs last year, the first time more jobs were lost than created in any year since 1992, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Falls in employment were also seen in 1982, 1990 and 1991. However those years all followed periods of recession when the Australian economy went backwards. By comparison, even at the height of the GFC in 2008, 194,000 jobs were created.

In May last year, Treasurer Wayne Swan made headlines when he pledged his budget would create 500,000 new jobs and drive unemployment to 4.5 per cent. But with 18 months left until the end of the government's term, analysts have questioned whether it can make good on the promise to reduce the number of unemployed people nationally by at least 100,000.

"It's going to be a tough ask to get unemployment that low, unless more people start to give up and not look for jobs any more," one analyst, who declined to be named, said last night.

Acting treasurer Bill Shorten last night admitted global turbulence throughout 2011 had made the government's job harder and caused job creation to slow. "While employment growth has slowed in the face of heightened global uncertainty, we've seen workers pick up a few extra hours of work each week," Mr Shorten said.

The opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey last night said the fact that more jobs were lost than created last year made a mockery of Mr Swan's claim to focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs".

NSW bore the brunt of the slump, with total unemployment jumping by 0.4 per cent to 5.6 per cent. But while overall unemployment remained steady at a respectable 5.2 per cent for December, analysts suggest the official figure could have been much more dire. "If the participation rate remained at 65.5 per cent, then the unemployment rate would have risen to 5.6 per cent," TD Securities head of Asian-Pacific research Annette Beacher said.

However the participation rate - a gauge of the population working or looking for work - in fact sunk to 65.2 per cent, its lowest level in almost two years. "This is the first definitive sign that some people have started giving up looking for work, and to be honest the situation in NSW is most likely going to get worse before it gets better," CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian said.


Let Tony Abbott repeal mining tax, says new WA Labor leader Mark McGowan

LABOR'S slated new leader in Western Australia has declared Tony Abbott likely to be the next prime minister and urged his federal counterparts to "let him" go through with a pledge to repeal the mining tax.

"You would have to say he's (Tony Abbott) the favourite nationally to become the prime minister," Mark McGowan said on ABC Radio yesterday. "That's what the opinion polls say."

He said the federal Opposition Leader's declaration to repeal the minerals resource rent tax was a bluff but his federal Labor colleagues should not stand in the way.

"If he decides to attempt to deliver on it, my view would be let him because then he will have enormous problems when he has to wind back tax cuts and take away people's superannuation and infrastructure," the soon-to-be West Australian opposition leader said.

"That will be his problem. It's just a bit of friendly advice (to federal Labor MPs) . . . call his bluff because if you call his bluff then he has to find another $11 billion or thereabouts in that loss of income."

Speaking days before he is expected to be elected Labor's new leader to replace Eric Ripper, who stood down on Wednesday, Mr McGowan said he would be standing up to the Gillard government to ensure his state got the best deal.

The state opposition would also continue its record of separating itself from unpopular federal policies, such as the mining tax.

"I'm not responsible for what the commonwealth does," Mr McGowan said. "I'm going to make it clear to the people of Western Australia that the commonwealth is a different entity to us and I'll be fighting them in the interests of WA whenever necessary."

He said federal Labor had failed at times to connect with WA voters, though he added more effort was being made to increase the Gillard government's popularity in his state.

Mr McGowan said unwinding the MRRT and taking away so much revenue for the commonwealth would be an extremely difficult policy for any government to enact.

He said that, given Mr Abbott was leading the polls, his policies should be held up to greater scrutiny. The 44-year-old said that, as the tax had passed federal parliament, the aim should now be to secure the best deal for his state.

"The mining tax has passed," he said. "It's in the past, it's in place. The most important thing we can do is this: get our fair share of the infrastructure fund of that mining tax package."

He wanted WA to get back whatever the state's contribution to the tax revenue was and this would equate to about 60 per cent, or hundreds of millions of dollars. "I don't want us to see just a population figure of 10 to 12 per cent; I want us to get the share we put in," Mr McGowan said.

The former navy legal officer also stressed yesterday that he was not aligned to any faction and would not be beholden to WA's left or right factions. It was members of the Left faction within Labor's caucus who told Mr Ripper it was time to resign following a recent dismal Newspoll published in The Australian.


At 103, Ina Cameron might never get surgery to mend her broken hip

And they're lying about it. You still feel pain just as much when you are old

SHE maintains her own garden, walks the supermarket aisles and contributes to the many committees she serves on, but 103-year-old Ina Cameron isn't considered a priority for surgery to mend her broken hip.

The woman, who was the country's oldest swinging voter at last year's state election, has been in agony since Monday night, when she fell at her Camden home and badly fractured her right hip.

Mrs Cameron was taken by ambulance to Campbelltown Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a broken hip and told she would need surgery to reset and repair the broken bone. But five days on, Mrs Cameron is still lying in agony in a hospital ward, waiting for surgery - because she keeps getting bumped off the theatre list.

Her furious niece Eva Campbell said hospital staff had indicated to her that Mrs Cameron was not a priority on the surgery list because of her age. "I think it is absolutely disgraceful," Mrs Campbell said.

Last night, Mrs Cameron was told she was wait-listed for surgery on Monday, but even that could not be guaranteed if a more urgent case presented itself.

"What decides urgency, I'd be interested to know. She is almost 104 years old. Shouldn't age and fragility be at the top of the priority list?" Mrs Campbell said.

Lying as still as she could to avoid the pain that even tiny movements cause, a brave Mrs Cameron told The Daily Telegraph she just wants to "get up and go home".

She has not eaten since she was delivered Meals on Wheels at lunchtime on Monday because she has been forced to fast and have "nil by mouth" in readiness for surgery, yet she hasn't come close to an operating theatre since she was admitted.

Mrs Campbell said her aunt was being prepared for surgery on Wednesday, but a five-year-old girl with a broken arm had "jumped the queue".

"I fully accept there are instances where cases are a priority, and you do have to step aside ... but how long does this go on for?" she said.

On Wednesday, Mrs Cameron became violently ill from the cocktail of medications she is on, and doctors ordered various tests to guarantee she was physically well enough for surgery and wasn't suffering internal bleeding.

"That was all sorted out on Wednesday, and she was deemed well enough for surgery. Why the wait 'til Monday?" Mrs Campbell said.

"An anaesthetist who assessed her considered her fit for surgery, and just last year when she overcame bowel surgery doctors said she was in better health than most 60-year-olds."

South West Area Health chief Professor Phil Harris said last night Mrs Cameron's surgery was being delayed because of her general health, specifically over concern she had ulcers in her stomach.

"This is a sick lady who obviously has a serious injury that requires surgery. They have not been able to perform that surgery due to her general medical condition that has required attention," he said. "There are no system constraints in regards to this person's surgery."

Mrs Campbell said the opposite message was communicated to family and there were no concerns aired about the woman's health being an impediment to surgery.

"The gastro team rang me at 5pm on Wednesday to say she was clear to go," she said. "(Then) they told me 'we are constrained by the system'."


19 January, 2012

Death and bureaucracy

DEATH is not acknowledged in the business world. When our mother died, my sister and I struggled to convince corporations and authorities we weren't concocting some outrageous scam. We took her death certificate to the bank ("We need more proof"), to the post office ("Susie! This lady's claiming her mother died. Sorry dear, it's not that we don't believe you") and the phone company ("Yes, but the account holder still needs to notify us in person"). "Our clients don't usually die," the girl from superannuation told us. "They retire. We don't have procedures for this."

Once we'd convinced Super Girl that our mother had died, we assumed she'd be quick to process the superannuation fund. Mum had listed two beneficiaries - myself and my sister. But a month later, Super Girl wrote to inform us a third beneficiary had stepped forward to claim a share of mum's superannuation. Processing was suspended while they investigated this anonymous beneficiary's claim.

We were mystified by this twist to our mother's history. Had Super Girl discovered a long-lost child in mum's past? At first Super Girl refused to identify the secret claimant, explaining the superannuation policy was "confidential". Finally, she relented and revealed the mystery beneficiary was our father. "But they were divorced more than 20 years ago," I said.

"That's not on file," she said. "I need to follow up his claim. So I wondered if you could help me out. We don't seem to have his contact details on file."

"But if he's made a claim, why don't you …"

"That's confidential," Super Girl snapped.

"Fine. My father's contact details are confidential too."

It was consoling to realise if Super Girl didn't have dad's contact details, he hadn't attempted to muscle in on his daughters' inheritance. Just to be sure, I rang him. He promptly sent us an email confirming his financial connection with our mother ended in 1990 and he would make no claims on her estate.

Super Girl never told us how she unearthed our father's name, so we think she must have discovered an old policy in my mother's file. Once my father provided her with a statutory declaration confirming he was not stepping forward as a beneficiary, it took eight months to process mum's policy. It was a particularly complicated case apparently: rather than retiring, our mother had died.

Unlike many of their clients, the superannuation industry surprisingly doesn't seem to have that much experience with death or divorce.


Australian carbon price much higher than in Europe

THE gulf between Australia's incoming fixed carbon price and the floating international price is set to widen as Europe's economic troubles and regulatory uncertainty undermine carbon markets.

The value of European Union Emission Allowances (EUAs) has halved since June and touched a record low of €6.38 ($7.85) a tonne of carbon dioxide on January 4.

The value of Certified Emission Reductions units, mandated under the United Nation's Clean Development Mechanism - tradeable internationally but mostly sold as offsets to liable parties in Europe - fell to a record €3.28 a tonne on Monday.

On Tuesday, French bank Societe Generale cut its forecast for European Union permit prices in 2012 by 28 per cent to €8.90 a tonne, on lower emissions because of worsening economic conditions and faster than expected deployment of renewable energy.

SocGen's Paris analyst, Emmanuel Fages, said if European regulators failed to set tight limits in the carbon market after 2020, when the continent's emissions trading scheme enters its fourth phase, "prices in an oversupplied market could rapidly fall further from present levels to values close to zero".

From July 1, Australia's biggest emitters will be liable to pay a carbon price of $23 a tonne, rising by 2.5 per cent a year until 2015, when it will float subject to a floor price of $15 a tonne, itself rising for another three years until it is reviewed.

Deutsche Bank analyst Tim Jordan said "clearly there's parts of business that would like access to a carbon price of €6 a tonne, but that would defer the decarbonisation of the Australian economy".

"There'll be pressure on the government to consider a lower price but I think the Parliament has passed the legislation and parties would be unlikely to reopen debate by 1 July," he said.

In November, Deutsche downgraded its forecasts for the price of European permits in 2012 to between €5 and €7 a tonne and predicted "if there is a repeat of the distress in interbank lending markets that we saw in 2009 … we think prices could break below €5 a tonne for a time".

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Seb Henbest said there was "not a lot of price support on the horizon" for international carbon prices. A mooted increase to Europe's 2020 emissions reduction target from 20 to 30 per cent was the only thing that could boost the price.

But Mr Henbest said Europe would not be the main driver of international carbon prices indefinitely. At some point, Europe would exceed its so-called "supplementarity" limits, which allow it to buy permits from overseas, mainly via CERs.



Why would people go and buy something that they can get elsewhere for free? Lots of Australians spend big on private health insurance despite Australia's "free" (taxpayer-funded) hospitals because they know how poor bureaucratically-controlled healthcare can be. Three current articles on that below

"Free" hospital treatment not so free if they refuse to treat you

Brisbane pensioner Merv McLean furious after waiting more than 15 years for cataract surgery only to receive letter urging him to have surgery done privately

A BRISBANE pensioner waited more than 15 years to get his cataracts treated only to receive a letter urging him to have the surgery done privately. Retired public servant Merv McLean is furious after being told by the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital he had been dumped from the list because his condition was considered "non-urgent".

And he's not alone. In what doctors see as an affront to Queensland's free public health system, The Courier-Mail has obtained two letters sent by the RBWH to patients requiring cataract surgery telling them to go elsewhere.

Mr McLean has accused the hospital of giving him false hope, and robbing him of years of quality of life. "If I had known they were going to tell me to get lost I could have had the surgery 10 or 15 years ago," said Mr McLean, 75.

Australian Medical Association state president Richard Kidd described the Queensland Health strategy as "penny wise and pound foolish". "There are a number of studies from around the world that have shown that cataract surgery, if you do that in a timely way, you prevent over 30 per cent of the falls that people would otherwise have," Dr Kidd said.

Mr McLean, a former education department administration officer from Brookfield in Brisbane's west, said he had to wait nine years just to get on the waiting list for cataract surgery. He said he was staggered to get a letter last November from the hospital's executive director, David Alcorn.

"The length of the waiting list has meant we have not been able to provide this appointment for you," the letter said, suggesting he consider "alternative management options" with his doctor, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

The Courier-Mail has obtained a copy of a similar letter sent to another patient around the same time. Mr McLean is now having the cataracts removed privately. He said the surgery will cost him nearly $4000 - even with a pensioner discount. He complained to his local member Bruce Flegg (LNP, Moggill) who said Mr McLean had been treated appallingly.

Dr Alcorn said patients who urgently needed treatment received priority.


Victorian woman forced to fly 400km to give birth after hospital turns her away

PREGNANT women in rural Victoria are being forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to give birth because of a shortage of hospital beds. A Mildura mother was yesterday forced to fly to Bendigo after she was turned away from Mildura Base Hospital because there was no room for her.

It comes as the Herald Sun revealed today a baby boom had put pressure on hospital maternity wards.

Martine Fletcher gave birth to twin boys Lachy and Thomas this morning in Bendigo, more than 400km from her Red Cliffs home. Mrs Fletcher's mother, Susan van Steenis, said it was the second time her daughter had been turned away from the hospital. Ms van Steenis said her daughter was turned away from Mildura Base Hospital about 8am yesterday morning because the nursery was full.

She said after discussions with hospital staff her daughter, and son-in-law Toby, were taken by air ambulance to Bendigo. "It is absolutely ridiculous, this is twice it’s happened now," she told the Herald Sun this morning. "There's six beds in there. For a regional hospital in a place the size of Mildura. It’s totally inadequate," she said.

Ms van Steenis, herself a theatre nurse, said her daughter was flown to Adelaide during her first pregnancy three years ago where she gave birth to twin daughters, Bella and Romy. "It’s simply appaling."

She said her daughter had been left "absolutely distraught" by the ordeal. "She’s got two little girls here who are missing her, and we don’t know how long it will be until she can come home," she said.

Mildura Base Hospital chief Dane Huxley said the decision to fly Mrs Fletcher out was made in her best interests. “The clinical advice I had was that it wouldn’t be wise to keep her in our hospital,” he said.

“We have a six-bed special care nursery, last week it was almost empty, this week for whatever reason it was full. “If you put too many babies in special care nursery it does become dangerous and you have to make a decision on what is best for the patients. “You don’t want a specal care nursery that is full."

Mr Huxley said the incident was not indicative that there was a hospital bed crisis.


52% of Australians flee public hospitals

MORE THAN half of Australians now have private health insurance - and the insurance industry is reaping the benefits, boosting its revenue from premiums by more than $1.25 billion last financial year.

According to the Private Health Insurance Administration Council's annual report, the gap between insurers' revenue, which totalled $15.4 billion last year, and insurance payouts is widening, with increases in premiums in some cases outstripping inflation.

The Gillard government has seized on the revenue figures to argue 30 per cent health insurance rebate should be means-tested, which could save the budget up to $2.4 billion.

Legislation to strip high-income earners of the 30 per cent rebate on their private insurance has twice been rejected in Parliament, but the government's chances of a third effort succeeding received a massive boost in December when Labor secured an extra vote in the House of Representatives with the resignation of Harry Jenkins as Speaker.

With the votes of Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MP Andrew Wilkie in hand, Labor only needs the support of just one more crossbenchers. West Australian Nationals MP Tony Crook has indicated he could support the bill, saying he was open to further discussions with the government.

The report showed that 52 per cent of Australians have general private health insurance and 45.4 per cent have private hospital cover. The latter exempts the policyholder from paying the Medicare surcharge of 1.5 per cent of income and guarantees the rebate.

According to Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, that is placing a massive strain on the scheme's financial position.

Means-testing the private health insurance rebate would affect 2.4 million health fund members, stripping individuals earning more than $80,000 a year and families earning more than $160,000 of the right to claim the tax break.

According to Treasury modelling, almost 8 million private health insurance policyholders would not be affected by the changes.

Ms Plibersek said it was not fair for ordinary workers to pay for the health cover of the wealthy. "Because the private health insurance industry is in a strong financial position, it is not appropriate for lower and middle-income Australians to be subsidising the health insurance of millionaires," she said."And while the industry grows, so does the cost to taxpayers of the private health insurance rebate - so that if we don't act now, the rebate will deprive the wider Australian health system of $100 billion over the next 40 years."

The report showed that while the industry's revenue stream from premiums grew by 8.8 per cent, benefits paid out to members only increased by 7.6 per cent.

Private health insurance incentives were introduced in 1997 to encourage Australians to take out insurance policies to support the struggling sector.

The rebate is now one of the most expensive and fastest growing areas of the health budget and is projected to cost taxpayers about $5 billion in 2011-12.

Treasury modelling estimates also showed that, if the changes to the private insurance rebate were to come into effect, 99.7 per cent of people would remain in some form of private cover as a result of the incentives of Lifetime Health Cover and the Medicare levy surcharge.


18 January, 2012

Europcar trying to suppress criticism of their practices

There have been multiple complaints against this firm, both in Australia and overseas. I would never hire from them

CURRENT affairs show Today Tonight is in legal hot water for the second time this month after a hire-car company claimed the program had falsely reported that it was ripping off customers by charging them for damage they had not caused.

Europcar has launched Supreme Court action against the Seven Network over a show that aired on January 5, which claimed the company was scamming drivers by leaving dents on cars for months and charging three or four different people for the same damage.

Today Tonight claimed "victims" in three states were charged hundreds or thousands of dollars for dents and scratches they had not caused.

According to a former employee, dubbed a whistleblower by the show, when a car came back with a minor scratch the customer would be charged more than $3000.

But Europcar said the claims had been "found to be baseless". Europcar is claiming the show maliciously published the false statements and is seeking damages.

Today Tonight's producer Craig McPherson said: "We are aware of the claim and we'll be defending it. Since the report we have received more complaints from Europcar customers, which we are investigating. We are preparing another story which Europcar is aware of."


Queensland's Year 7 move a waste: Dubious advantages and big costs

Katter's Australian Party has demanded the axing of plans to move year 7 into the high school system, saying Queensland should be “proud to do things differently” from other states.

This morning, party federal leader Bob Katter and state leader Aidan McLindon held a media conference at Beenleigh State School, where they attacked the state government's plan to bring Queensland into line with other states by moving year 7 out of the primary school system from 2015.

But Mr McLindon, the former Liberal National Party member who is fighting to hold onto his seat of Beaudesert at the coming state election, said the scrapping of the plans would save $620 million over four years.

He said he was concerned about the impact of the changes on rural and regional schools, along with the costs of building extra classrooms at numerous at-capacity high schools. “At this time right now it's a complete and utter waste of time,” he said.

Mr McLindon dismissed the government's argument that the change would bring Queensland into line with other states and ensure local students were not disadvantaged when the national curriculum was rolled out. “If people want to send their kids to a school in New South Wales, then they can, but the reality is it does not improve their education,” he said.

“We used to be a proud state to do things differently in Queensland. “It [moving year 7 into high school] forces the kids to grow up sooner. Let kids be kids.”

Premier Anna Bligh has previously said the year 7 class of 2015 would be the first full year to have attended the prep prior to year 1, and students would be ready and old enough for the change.

The move will be piloted in 20 schools from next year ahead of the 2015 state-wide rollout.

The government has budgeted $328.2 million towards work including construction of about 550 new classrooms and the refurbishment of 880, while $293.8 million will be spent over five years on teacher training and other measures to enable the move.

Mr McLindon said the money saved by scrapping the transition of year 7 into high school would fund Katter's Australian Party promises, including those yet to be made during the election campaign. He said the party was costing its promises “to the best of our ability”.

Mr McLindon was unsure of the cost of Mr Katter's idea, announced yesterday, to carve a canal through inland Queensland so mines could export iron ore through the Gulf of Carpentaria. “We've got to do the costings on that, but that's going to take a lot of federal funds as well,” he said.

Announcing the year 7 transition timeframe in June last year, Ms Bligh said the national curriculum would start with in the areas of maths, science and English.

“And what the curriculum generally will require is letting year 7 children have an opportunity to benefit from specialist teachers and from specialist learning facilities,” she said.

“So the science curriculum for year 7 children will be based on the assumption that these children have access to the sorts of facilities and teaching capacity that you find in dedicated science laboratories of Queensland high schools.”

The Liberal National Party has previously offered in-principle support for the change, but expressed concern over how it would be implemented and whether the costs had been underestimated.


Mothers bribed to leave hospital early after giving birth to free up beds

How times have changed. Within my recollection mothers would stay in hospital for a week after birth

GIFTS worth hundreds of dollars are being lavished on mums if they leave hospital early after giving birth. Nappies, house cleaning, shopping vouchers and spa visits are among offers from private hospitals to women who elect to go home earlier than scheduled.

St Vincent's Private in Melbourne offers a "family package", including nappies ($100), six hours' house cleaning ($180), frozen meals ($60), and a visit from a midwife.

A mother who recently gave birth at St Vincent's said she was surprised by the offer. "It was strange, and the way it was offered was very sneaky," she said.

"A pamphlet offers all these gifts for 'eligible people'; then later, you're told you need to leave early to be eligible. I would have expected they would encourage new mums to stay in hospital, where you get the support you need."

The Australian Medical Association said the baby boom had put pressure on hospitals, which were looking at innovative ways to free beds.

Some health experts are concerned it could encourage mothers to go home before they are ready, but hospitals said it was a way to provide extra support for women who chose to leave early, and was mostly used by women who had other children at home.

St Vincent's director of nursing Liz Turner said about 20 people a month took the offer. She denied it was a way to save costs or free beds. "It's usually women who are coming back for their second or third babies, who have had an uncomplicated pregnancy," she said. "It's a known fact a lot of people do rest better at home and it does help breastfeeding. We want to give women the best level of care we can."

At Epworth Freemasons, options include a day spa voucher and phone call from a midwife, lactation consultation or midwife visit, plus a $100 Coles/Myer voucher.

The Australian College of Midwives said support of mums, not a discharge date, was most important.

AMA Victoria vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis said practical support could be helpful to mothers who were medically and emotionally ready to leave hospital, but it should not be "coercive".

Mother of two Alicia Bellette, 34, who gave birth to Luke on December 30 at St Vincent's, was delighted with $200 worth of nappies and a midwife's visit. "It works really well. I've got a 3 1/2-year-old daughter and she was very eager for me to get home from hospital," said Mrs Bellette, who left on day three.

"The midwife came to the house the next day and was really supportive, and left her mobile number if we had any questions. I didn't feel like I missed out at all going home early."


Lazy and ignorant bureaucrats

To most of us, June 2009 seems quite a while ago. But not, apparently, to the public servants employed by Fair Work Australia. FWA is a creation of the Gillard Labor government and came into operation on January 1, 2010, assuming all the functions previously held by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Australian Industrial Registry.

In June 2009, Kathy Jackson (national secretary of the Health Services Union) referred allegations of financial irregularity in the union, when Craig Thomson ran the union, to the Industrial Registry.

Thomson had stepped down as the union's national secretary in 2007, when he was elected as Labor MP for the seat of Dobell on the central coast.

The public servants who worked for the Industrial Registry moved into FWA in January 2010. They have now been on the case, as to whether Thomson was involved in financial irregularities, for almost three years.

Surprising? Well, not really. In the early 1980s, I worked in the former commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations in Melbourne, in some of the areas which are now covered by FWA. This was my first, and only, public service job and it took some time to learn how to pace myself.

The essential problem was that nearly everything seemed to take forever. Early on, I was given the deed of preparing a draft ministerial reply for the federal minister. I completed the job before lunch - after all, the letter was only about 400 words. But I was told such a response was too prompt and the task should take at least a week.

It is not being suggested every department works at such a pace. But some do. The Thomson matter should be relatively easy to resolve. Trade unions are registered organisations. They have rules which are registered with FWA and are required to abide by these rules. In return, they obtain privileges.

For example, unions are protected from competition since potential competitors are denied registration and cannot enjoy the privileges enshrined in the Fair Work Act. With respect to Thomson, the questions are obvious. What did he spend the union's money on? Was such behaviour consistent with the HSU's rules? It is almost unbelievable such an inquiry could take close to three years to complete.

Bernadette O'Neill, in her capacity as FWA's acting general manager, said in December the Thomson case had "reached an advanced stage" and said FWA expected to "finalise its investigation in the new year". We shall see.

Apart from an apparent ambivalence to time, the other notable fact about life in the federal Industrial Relations Department was the lack of understanding of, or empathy towards, business. Especially small business.

Most of my colleagues had never worked in the private sector and none had ever experienced the responsibility of raising money to employ workers. Yet we were tasked with administrating the relationship between employers and employees at a time of economic downturn.

Looking from a distance three decades later, nothing much seems to have changed. Last Thursday, 7.30 interviewed Anna Augustine, general manager of Melbourne's Cafe Vue.

She spoke about the complexity of awards handed down by FWA and said the "repercussions of not meeting" award requirements "kept operators awake at night". It is my experience bureaucrats, in relatively secure employment, have difficulty understanding such concerns.

Then there is the Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, who is responsible for ensuring that awards determined by FWA are complied with. Wilson let it be known he was going to take an active stance against employers who were underpaying staff.

It turns out Wilson's own staff have given incorrect advice to employers, which has resulted in underpayments to employees.

Now, some small businesses have to compensate workers through no fault of their own. Ideally, any repayments should come out of the Fair Work Ombudsman's budget. But it won't happen. It is as if, to Wilson, only employers should be punished.

Last week, The Age reported that celebrity chef George Calombaris had said that penalty rates set by FWA were uneconomical. The following day, The Age's letters editor gave pride of place to Paul Bugeja. His advice was straightforward: "So, George if you don't want to pay penalties … don't trade on Sunday."

This reminded me of the mindset of my public service colleagues three decades ago. Workers who want to work weekends and customers who want to spend on weekends, including tourists, just did not matter.

The public servants and former union officials who preside at FWA and related bodies have the best intentions. It's just that they tend to look favourably on unions and with disfavour on business. What's more, as is not surprising for those in secure employment, time is of little moment. Which helps explain the Thomson delay.


17 January, 2012

Federal government hits phone companies with huge fees

Guess who'll end up paying. It's a tax by another name

TELSTRA has warned Australia will fall behind other countries in rolling out crucial mobile phone technology if the Federal Government slugs the industry with draconian licence-renewal fees.

The telco giant has told Communications Minister Stephen Conroy that the government risks hampering the development of smartphone and wireless technology, the Herald Sun reported.

In a submission lodged with the government yesterday, Telstra says Australia could suffer the "lemming-like" tumble taken by Europe a decade ago that saw the development of mobile networks stymied.

Under the government's plan, Telstra will have to pay $758 million to renew its 15-year licence for spectrum access. Vodafone would have to pay about $678 million.

Telstra yesterday told Mr Conroy the price was outrageous. "The price is high by current international standards," one industry insider said. "We don't agree with the methodology the government used, we think mistakes were made."

Under the government plan, telcos will pay 50 per cent on top of the base price recommended by consultants. It is understood telcos are pushing to pay closer to 25 per cent. A decision on pricing is expected by March.

Industry experts yesterday said the government was starting negotiations with a high price. "They are thinking 'how high can we go while avoiding an auction'?

"They want to avoid an auction because there are a whole lot of factors like the troubles in Europe casting doubts over the capacity of another player to enter the field."

In its submission, Telstra draws parallels to the prices that were paid in Europe during the tech boom. "Because of the high cost, all the telcos were under financial pressure and it slowed the roll out of technology by three years."

The Telstra and Vodafone licences are set to expire at the end of the year. Vodafone yesterday said it was undertaking continuing "constructive discussions" with the government.

BBY telecommunications analyst Mark McDonnell said all the telcos were "hostage" to the government over the "repricing" of spectrum and prices would inevitably rise if the government leveraged a high fee.

Mr McDonnell said that over the past 15 years the telcos had built multi-billion dollar networks with millions of customers on top of the spectrum access. "The rights of incumbency and lack of right of incumbency is a significant risk for carriers in this country."


Joblessness to rise this year: ANZ

The Labor Party is gradually destroying the healthy economy that John Howard left them

AUSTRALIA is set for a higher rate of unemployment in 2012, new figures show. The number of job advertisements on the internet and in newspapers fell 0.9 per cent in December compared with the previous month, ANZ said today. Total job ads were 2.6 per cent lower than in December 2010 - the first negative annul growth rate since February 2010.

ANZ also reported a fall of 0.8 per cent in the trend measure of total job ads in December.

The bank's head of Australian economics Katie Dean said this "points to, at best, modest employment gains for the Australian economy over the coming months''. "Indeed, the current trend rate of employment growth is unlikely to be fast enough to absorb the forecast growth in the labour force in the short term,'' Ms Dean said. "As a result, ANZ forecasts the unemployment rate to rise to 5.5 per cent by mid-2012.''

She said she expected the unemployment rate to stay at this elevated level for most of 2012, before falling modestly in 2013 as economic activity started to pick-up, in response to strong mining and infrastructure investment and a likely extended period of relatively-low domestic interest rates.

Australia's unemployment rate was last reported to be 5.3 per cent in November.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday releases official employment figures for the month of December. The median market forecast is for 10,000 jobs to have been added in the month with the unemployment rate staying at 5.3 per cent.


Increase in temperatures will cut short lives, says "expert"

What a lot of rubbish. It's cold that is bad for you. Deaths are much higher in winter. Another "modelling" exercise, no doubt

A GLOBAL temperature rise of 2C by 2050 would result in increased loss of life, a new Queensland study has found. Scientists from the Queensland University of Technology and the CSIRO examined the "years of life lost" due to climate change, focusing on Brisbane.

"A two-degree increase in temperature in Brisbane between now and 2050 would result in an extra 381 years of life lost per year in Brisbane," lead researcher Associate Professor Adrian Barnett, from the university's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said.

"A two-degree increase in temperature is the figure in the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is dangerous, but could be reached unless more aggressive measures are undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Prof Barnett said the "years of life lost" measurement gives greater weight to deaths at younger ages instead of focusing only on elderly people. "We suspected that many temperature-related deaths were in the elderly, which would reduce the public health importance of temperature compared with other issues," he said. "In fact, we found the opposite, with a surprisingly high years of life lost figure."

Prof Barnett said that an increase of more than two degrees would be catastrophic. "A four-degree increase in temperature would result in an extra 3242 years of life lost per year in Brisbane."

Interestingly, the study found that a one-degree increase would result in a decrease in the number of lives lost. This is believed to be because the increase in heat-related years of life lost are offset by the decrease in cold-related years of life lost. The researchers said cold-related deaths were significant, even in a city with Brisbane's warm climate.

And many deaths could be avoided if people had better insulation in their houses. "Many houses in Brisbane are built of thin planks of wood and are poorly insulated, which means the occupants are exposed to whatever the temperature is outside," Prof Barnett said.

The researchers believed that while their work was focused on Brisbane, it contained helpful information to decision-makers in other areas as well.

The study has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.


A beloved fish!

BLUEY'S back. Or is he? The legendary Clovelly Bay groper, famed for befriending many a Sydney snorkeller, may have returned. Or he's spawned a family.

Intriguingly, the new Bluey on the block could also be a female that has changed sex and simply replaced him, a phenomenon characteristic of the eastern blue groper species.

Bluey was thrust into the spotlight in 2002, when he was "murdered" by an unknown spear fisherman. So loved was the fish, the then NSW premier Bob Carr called the killer "a mongrel", before announcing five new aquatic reserves near Sydney beaches to protect marine life.

"I have seen the groper," the premier pronounced at the time. "I have swum with him. I know the groper, he was a friend of mine."

But then a year or so later, Clovelly swimmers sighted Bluey, sparking debate on whether rumours of his death had been greatly exaggerated. And this summer a large bright blue dominant male has been spotted.

A Coogee Pro Dive scuba master, Evan Batten, confirmed a Bluey lookalike was in the area, but said it was impossible to verify whether it was the original. Such sightings are so regular Mr Batten calls Bluey the "Elvis of the sea".

"Bluey is definitely a legend, he was extremely large, 1.2 metres long and a very rich blue. But did he get killed? Was it really Bluey they speared? Maybe he escaped and now has come back?"

To John Rowe, the secretary of the Gordons Bay Scuba Diving Club, Bluey is "the Phantom", named after the comic-strip character who never dies. While he was a long-time fan of Bluey, Mr Rowe said no one knew when the legend began "especially because when the dominant Bluey dies a dominant female becomes the new Bluey," he said.

All eastern blue gropers start life as greenish-coloured females, though some will change sex and colour to become blue males.

Professor Steve Kennelly, the director of fisheries research at the Department of Primary Industries, doubts the original Bluey is still alive and suggested another fish may have simply replaced him. "It's safe to say a Bluey or Bluey's relatives are back but it's definitely not him or his son," he said. "I'd be very surprised if it was the original as he wouldn't have lasted this long."

Professor Kennelly said public outrage over Bluey's death had helped promote a need to protect the species. It has been illegal to spear gropers since 1969 - they can only be fished with a rod and line. In 1998, the eastern blue groper was announced the official fish of NSW.

News of Bluey's possible return excited Mr Carr.

"I snorkelled at Clovelly a few weeks ago and was happy to see a family of gropers enjoying the crystal clear water with me," he said. "Why anyone would spear them is still beyond my understanding."


16 January, 2012

Whaler in Aust waters stand-off

This report is from a couple of days ago but it shows the weak position of the Gillard government. If Gillard expects respect from Japan while she gives safe harbour to ships that attack the Japanese fleet, she is very optimistic indeed. There's probably an international convention against protecting piracy too, which Japan could accuse Australia of breaching.

It would be a great loss of face for Japan to surrender in the face of Greenie attacks so the Greenies by their actions ensure that Japan will continue whaling.

Whale meat is not popular in Japan and the trade would die out of its own accord without Greenie meddling. As it is, Japan has resorted to handing out free whale meat in schools in order to reduce their unused stocks of it

A Japanese whaling ship has defied high level Australian complaints and has stayed in the waters of World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island. The harpoon-equipped whale hunter, Yushin Maru No3, was still there late yesterday, hours after Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the ship was leaving.

"I'm aware that there has been one vessel which I'm advised has been in Australian territorial waters and I'll advise that it will leave Australian territorial waters," Ms Gillard said.

The Australian embassy told the Japanese Government on Tuesday that whaling vessels were not welcome in the country's waters, repeating earlier complaints. But the Japanese ship was photographed yesterday within a few miles of the coast of Macquarie, which is part of the state of Tasmania.

The Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group said the harpoon ship continued trailing the vessel Bob Barker inside the 12 nautical mile territorial limit all day. The Bob Barker's first mate, Peter Hammarstedt, said, "Things seem to be reaching a boiling point here. "It has followed us on circuits of the island, keeping right inside the 12-mile zone."

The Bob Barker sought refuge at Macquarie in an attempt to shake the harpoon ship off its stern. As long as some vessels of the Japanese fleet are able to keep tabs on Sea Shepherd activists, the others can keep clear and continue whaling.

Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said from far south of Western Australia last night that the Japanese security ship Shonan Maru No2 had left the tail of his vessel, Steve Irwin, to be replaced by the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No2.


'Perverse' incentives cost Medicare up to $3bn a year, claims GP

A SYSTEM of "perverse" financial incentives under Medicare is causing the Australian health care system to haemorrhage billions of dollars each year, a medical expert says.

In a scathing article for the Medical Journal of Australia published today, GP Dr Tony Webber has described the Medicare scheme as a "monster". "I estimate that $2 billion to $3 billion are spent inappropriately each year," Dr Webber writes.

As former chief of the Professional Services Review - set up to police Medicare - he said he gained insight into how dysfunctional the system had become.

Two items listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule which are subsidised by the Government and create "opportunities for a bonanza" are General Practice Management Plans (GPMPs) and Team Care Arrangements (TCAs), Dr Webber said.

They aim to allow doctors to spend time with complex patients, such as those who have diabetes, kidney failure and hypertension. But "perverse incentives" and a badly drawn-up scheme had created opportunities for abuse, he said.

Under Medicare a normal consultation of at least 20 minutes carries a benefit of $69. If a GP wants to refer a patient to a Medicare allied health service, a GPMP and TCA need to be drawn up. A GPMP attracts a Medicare benefit of $138.75, a TCA has a benefit of $109.95.

"That's created a monster because many of these items are being done for inappropriate reasons for people for whom their medical conditions would ordinarily be managed quite happily in the course of the normal general practice," Dr Webber told AAP.

Items listed on Medicare also needed to be re-evaluated to reflect their true cost, he argues. While once cataract surgery was a "big deal", with patients staying for a week, it now takes around 20 minutes. Despite this, private patients are sometimes charged more than $4000 for this procedure, with top providers performing more than 20 procedures in one day, he wrote. "Not bad work if you can get it but very poor public policy," he said.

A spokesperson for the acting minister for health, Nicola Roxon, said "a broad compliance regime" monitored the MBS and the PBS. "Items listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule are placed there because they are clinically necessary."

The spokesperson also said Dr Webber, who was responsible for running a peer review arrangement on around 270 doctors, "has no responsibility in the area of health policy or funding". "Accordingly, he is unable to comment with authority on these matters."


Putting a dollar value on having top teachers

GOOD teachers can influence the earning power, teenage pregnancy rates and university enrolments of their students.

These are the findings of a controversial US study, which followed 2.5 million students over 20 years.

The study, by economists from Harvard and Columbia universities, used scores from standardised tests - the US equivalent of Australian NAPLAN testing - to assess teacher quality.
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It has not been peer reviewed but its results have sparked debate between teachers and parents over the benefits of merit-based pay for teachers, one of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's 2010 election promises.

The study found "excellent" teachers can increase a student's lifetime income by about $4600, compared with students of a similar demographic. Across an entire classroom, that could equate to $266,000.

Students who had the best teachers were also least likely to become pregnant in their teens, the study found.

But the majority of Australian teachers argue that using NAPLAN results to measure teacher quality does not take into account other factors such as student backgrounds.

"It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to isolate teachers in that way," the president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Bob Lipscombe, said. "A typical high school student has seven or eight teachers each year - which teacher takes credit for the results?

"More goes into making an excellent teacher than just test results."

But the president of the NSW Parents and Citizens Association, Helen Walton, said the study's findings could empower parents who are concerned their child's teacher is not performing well.

"You need quality teachers in every classroom, in front of every child," she said. "At the moment, if a parent or a group of parents are concerned that a teacher is not performing, the process required to put that teacher through an improvement program can take up to 12 months. By that time, it's too late."

The Federal Minister for Education, Peter Garrett, said the government was working towards giving schools greater say on recruitment. However, he stopped short of endorsing the study.


Women 'overdiagnosed' with breast cancer

There have been similar reports to this from Britain

WOMEN are being treated unnecessarily for breast cancer due to mammograms "overdiagnosing" cancers which would never cause harm, a study has revealed.

In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Monash University breast cancer researchers Robin Bell and Robert Burton called for women invited to use the publicly-funded BreastScreen program to be presented with a more balanced view about the benefits and harms of breast screening.

Their analysis found that improvements in cancer treatments rather than early detection through screening was likely to have caused the 21 to 28 per cent reduction in breast cancer deaths since the program began in 1991.

A 2010 study found that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one would have her life prolonged but 10 healthy women would be diagnosed as breast cancer patients and treated unnecessarily.

The Cancer Council has backed calls for women to be informed about the risks and benefits of screening, including the uncertainty of overdiagnosis but insist that breast screening has contributed substantially to an overall drop in breast cancer deaths. It said three evaluations of mammography screening for women aged 50-69 years had put the reduction in breast cancer mortality at between 30 and 47 per cent.

Associate Professor Robin Bell said the benefits of the BreastScreen program were overblown. "This comes down to the balance of harm versus benefits," Prof Bell said. "My view is that women need to be given more balanced information about the BreastScreen program when invited to be screened.

"Overdiagnosis amounts to women having a small, slow-growing cancer being diagnosed and treated, where in her lifetime that cancer may not have required treatment."

She said the impact of breast screening was diminishing as the outcome of treatment for breast cancer improved and the balance of benefit to harm of breast screening was becoming less favourable. "This has serious implications for health policymakers," she said.

More than 13,000 women in Australia are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.


15 January, 2012

Long distance rail travel dying

Both the Indian Pacific and the Ghan now to run only once a week

WA'S travel and tourism rail icon the Indian Pacific is under threat and will slash services to stay afloat.

The world-famous train linking WA with the eastern states via the Nullarbor Plain is battling competition from low-cost airlines and the cruise ship market, amid slumping tourism and a high Australian dollar.

But its owner, Great Southern Railway, says China could come to the rescue as visitor numbers from the US, Britain and Europe drop.

GSR has been forced to cut back services on the Indian Pacific, which runs between Perth and Sydney via Adelaide, dropping back to one service a week from March 28 two months earlier than it usually scales back for the low season.

The Ghan, linking Darwin and Adelaide via Alice Springs, will from April 4 also only operate one service a week.

The Indian Pacific, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010, and The Ghan are regularly mentioned in lists of the world's great rail journeys.

GSR interim general manager Russell Westmoreland could not rule out staff cuts in the future. "This is a commercial decision, like we saw Qantas had to do last year," he said. "We know it will have an impact on guests, but it is what we need to do for the survival of the industry.

"We have a lot of fixed costs before we even put a guest on the train. We have to hire the locos, hire the track and put staff on train, before we welcome one paying guest. But we're competing with airlines, cheap holidays in Bali, Fiji and places like that, so have to be smarter about the ways we do things."

The biggest threat is cruise ships. With most ships flying under international flags, operators pay staff wages based on offshore awards in different currencies.

Tourism group Australia's Golden Outback chief executive Jack Eerbeek said GSR could ensure its future by "freshening up" its "fantastic" product and catering for an army of retiring baby boomers.

"While the Indian Pacific has been well maintained, there is nothing new, like an observation deck, or a double-decker train cabin," he said. "Some of these new things could rekindle some interest in the product."

GSR is promoting travel to Perth and a hire car to drive to Albany and Esperance, then up via Wave Rock to Kalgoorlie. But Mr Eerbeek said GSR should promote an alternative.

"We'd like to see them take their car on the train and get off at Kalgoorlie, then drive down to Esperance and Albany and then up to Perth," he said. "Unfortunately, there are no facilities for taking cars off at Kalgoorlie at the moment."


Taxpayers slapped with massive bill for anti-whaling activist rescue

TAXPAYERS face a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of the rescue of three anti-whaling activists from a Japanese ship.

But supporters of the West Australian trio have blamed Attorney-General Nicola Roxon for the cost.

The three were yesterday heading home on an Australian Customs vessel, days after being held captive on whaling ship Shonan Maru 2, after boarding it with the help of the Sea Shepherd group.

Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson said Canberra was accountable for the cost of the transfer of the three men to a Customs vessel. "These expenses could have been avoided if the Attorney-General had first examined the evidence before taking the word of the Japanese that they were not inside the Australian contiguous zone," Capt Watson said yesterday.

"The Government refused our offer for the men to be transferred from the Shonan Maru No 2 to (our) Steve Irwin which would have cost nothing."

The three - Geoffrey Tuxworth, 47, Simon Peterffy, 44, and Glen Pendlebury, 27 - boarded the ship off the coast of Bunbury a week ago and are believed to be in good health.


More male teachers needed to help boys perform better, survey shows

MORE male teachers are needed in Victorian schools to help boys perform better, a new teacher survey shows.

The survey shows teachers believe little is being done to address the performance gap between girls and boys.

The Sunday Herald Sun can reveal the findings of the latest Staff in Australia Schools survey, which asked more than 15,000 teachers and principals about their working conditions.

The report found fewer than one in five primary school teachers is male, with the number of female teachers rising in the 2010 survey to 81 per cent.

But men are far more likely to rise through the ranks to become principals in high schools, holding 61 per cent of leadership positions.

The survey also showed principals want more power to sack underperforming teachers, with a majority saying they feel hamstrung.

While private school principals have revealed much higher levels of authority to review teachers' performance and recruit staff, public school principals warn they are lagging behind.

Concerns over a lack of power to hire and fire teachers was highest among principals at public high schools, where 54 per cent were unhappy with the rules.

Releasing the report today, federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said the findings underlined the Government's push to boost principals' and parents' power to run schools.


Saving Macquarie Island

MACQUARIE Island's pest-fighters have tentatively declared victory over marauding rats, mice and rabbits.

Since aerial baiting was completed in July, no rats and mice have been seen. The Parks and Wildlife Service also says the baiting, along with the release of the calicivirus earlier last year, has reduced the number of rabbits from 100,000 to less than 30.

And the World Heritage-listed island is already looking greener, with long-displaced birds returning to nest.

The sometimes controversial program is shaping up to be a major win for conservation, and is hopefully the final barrage in a war on pests that began with efforts to kill off the island's feral cats in the mid-1980s.

About 35km long and just 5.5km wide at its broadest point, Macquarie Island has 128 sq km of coastline. When total success against pests can be confirmed, it will be the largest land mass on which rabbits and rodents have been eradicated.

After the last round of bait drops in July, a team of 15 people and 12 dogs set out to sweep the island for surviving invaders. The team killed 13 rabbits. No fresh signs of rabbits have been seen since November.

Less that a fortnight ago, Macquarie Island program manager Keith Springer made a trip to the island to visit the hunting team. "There were three areas on the island that they had found signs [of rabbits], and we're still searching and haven't accounted for those rabbits," he said.

Mr Springer said the pest eradication team would maintain a presence on the island for the next five years. The first half of this period would be devoted to eradicating every last rabbit, with the remainder spent monitoring.

Mr Springer said the $25 million poured into the project by the Australian and Tasmanian governments could be wasted if a few rodents were to survive and re-establish. "It will be another two years before we can really say mission accomplished," he said.

The pest eradication program has drawn criticism, particularly over the number of native birds killed by the deadly brodifacoum poison used in aerial baiting.

The program also hit a snag in mid-2010 when bad weather grounded baiting helicopters.

Mr Springer said poisoning had been integral to the program's success, and the risks to native birds had been considered. "We couldn't expect to get the rabbit population down without using a technique like that," he said. "Before you start on a project like this you have to assess what the undesirable impacts are likely to be and weigh that up."

Mr Springer said since last year's baiting, about 1400 dead birds had been found on the island. Half were kelp gulls. "Most of those would have died from secondary or primary poisoning, but we must include an element of natural mortality," he said.

"If we can achieve eradication long term and bird species have time to re-establish, is that long-term benefit worth the price paid by those individuals? "As long as the population is not significantly affected, the long-term benefits usually outweigh the short term impacts."

In the first summer since baiting finished, previously barren areas have started to flourish.

"The improvement is really dramatic already," Mr Springer said. "Visually it is much greener, as vegetation has been able to grow without being grazed. "When you look closer, some of the mega-herb species such as pleurophyllum [a native daisy] are now found around the island up to nearly knee height. That's been heavily grazed in the past."

Birds are also showing signs of recovery. Blue petrels had been clinging to existence on some offshore rock stacks, driven from the island by rats, but are now starting to return.

"We've found large numbers of blue petrels nesting on the main island, which they haven't been known to do for decades," Mr Springer said. "They're small petrels, about the size of a black bird, and they got hammered by rats because they nest in burrows."

Grey petrels are also recovering. These larger petrels were driven to the brink of extinction but began breeding again after the year 2000, when cats were eradicated from the island.

Mr Springer said the demise of the rodents had caused a spike in grey petrel breeding this season. "This year [grey petrel breeding] has shot up," he said.

A sub-Antarctic outpost, Macquarie Island is about 1500km south-east of Hobart.

It is one of very few islands in the region where animals can breed. About 3.5 million seabirds and 80,000 elephant seals arrive on Macquarie Island each year.


14 January, 2012

Federal government aid to private schools to continue

Even under a Leftist government. With 39% of Australian teenagers going to non-government schools, anything else would consign the Left to years in the political wilderness. "Biffo" Latham's threat to private schools was a major factor in his undoing

PETER GARRETT has predicted a shake-up of school funding will not reignite class divisions, declaring the nation has moved on from debates about funding private schools.

The panel charged with reviewing funding, chaired by the businessman David Gonski, handed its report to Mr Garrett, the School Education Minister, shortly before Christmas.

Mr Garrett is developing the government's response, which will be released with the report early in the new school year.

The opposition's education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has predicted the government will cut funding to private schools, forcing them to increase fees or sack staff.

But Mr Garrett said despite Mr Pyne's "mischievous" contributions, the debate on funding schools had been "mature."

"I would certainly caution against the opposition thinking that there is some window of opportunity once a report of this kind is released to reignite those stale old ideological warfare exercises," Mr Garrett said. "We're in a different place as a country now. We recognise that we have a government system and non-government systems of education and we need to have an approach that applies to all systems, and that's what we're aiming for."

Mr Pyne said the opposition was taking its cues from Mr Garrett's refusal to rule out cuts to school funding indexation.

"Millions of parents with children in non-government schools are waiting to see how much their school fees will be going up because of the Gillard government's changes to school funding," Mr Pyne said.

Labor went to the 2007 election promising to preserve the Howard government's system for four years, and in the 2010 campaign sought to neutralise the issue by promising to extend those arrangements until the end of next year. Mr Garrett said Labor had boosted funding while the Coalition had promised cuts.


Leftist attack on Australia's most promising industry

It's only the miners who keep Australia prosperous but this new slug amounts to an attack on new mines as well as a general disincentive to mining

THE Bligh government in Queensland has angered miners with a $370 million cash grab before the start to the federal government's mining tax. The new charges - including a radical cash-bidding system for coal permits - were announced by the Queensland Treasurer, Andrew Fraser, yesterday as part of efforts to bring the budget back to surplus before the state election.

Queensland Resources Council said the charges would hit junior miners most. The chief executive of the lobby group, Michael Roche, said the $370 million in new charges by 2014-15 was "predicated on a flawed assumption that minerals and energy companies are bottomless cash pits".

"Most small to medium explorers and developers operate on shoestring budgets because of the high-risk nature of their activities," Mr Roche said. "These are the people the state government has previously said it wants to encourage but again has shown no hesitation in loading them up with new charges, this time in the form of permit and tenure transfer charges."

Another lobby group, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, expressed extreme disappointment with the new charges, particularly the game-changing introduction of a tender process on coal exploration permits.

"This process which is effective immediately is inequitable and discriminates against small and emerging exploration companies," said its regional manager, Ross Musgrove. "This process only adds to the complexity for small and emerging exploration companies accessing land in Queensland and we are very disappointed there has been no consultation … AMEC strongly discourages cash-bidding tender processes, as small and emerging companies will be disadvantaged."


Rudd in talks over Iran asylum surge

I must say that I am fairly sympathetic to people wishing to escape the Iranian theocracy -- JR

The Federal Government says it is concerned about a "new challenge" emerging in the international world of people smuggling. Recent figures on boat arrivals show the number of people from Iran has risen sharply in the past few months, with Iranian asylum seekers using Indonesia as a transit point to get to Australia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd has raised the issue with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa.

Indonesia's foreign ministry spokesman Michael Tene says they were told that Iranians now comprise almost 50 per cent of those seeking asylum in Australia.

It is understood that two years ago the number of Iranians on the Immigration Department's case load was 6 per cent. A year later it was 36 per cent, and now it is approaching 50 per cent, which means almost half the number of people arriving in Australia by boat are from one country.

In Indonesia's view the issue is not specifically about Iran, but more about the task of tackling a tricky regional subject; in this instance, with people coming in via Dubai.

"My understanding is from the information provided for Mr Rudd that the Iranians would be asylum seekers. They came through Dubai, then to Bali, then from there their effort is to get into Australia," Mr Tene said.

The two foreign ministers agreed to share more information about the flow of people and on finding ways to disrupt the so-called pipelines.

Meanwhile, Australia has decided not to pursue a people smuggling kingpin who has just stepped out of an Indonesian jail. Zamin Ali, also known as Haji Sakhi, had been in prison since May 2010 for offences related to people smuggling. Australia had been seeking to extradite the Pakistani national, but just a few days before his release withdrew the application.

The Attorney-General's department says authorities are no longer in a position to prosecute him for the alleged crimes.


Taking taxpayers for a ride

Last week, consultancy firm KPMG published its Global Auto Executive Survey for 2012, in which executives from the world’s leading car manufacturers were asked about the situation of their industry. One of their key concerns was global overcapacity, estimated at somewhere between 20% and 30%.

It is against this background that we have to evaluate the federal government’s decision to grant Ford new subsidies towards the production of its Falcon model; it is likely that new support to Holden will be announced shortly. While Ford will receive an additional $53 million from Australian taxpayers, GM Holden is seeking up to $200 million to continue its Commodore production in Adelaide.

By international standards, both Ford Australia and Holden have always been small. With the rise of new car manufacturers in Asia, they are looking even smaller. All Australian manufacturers have a combined annual production of roughly 240,000 vehicles. Even countries like Romania, Taiwan and Belgium produce more. Australia’s annual output is dwarfed by that of South Korea (4.3 million vehicles), Japan (9.6 million) and China (18 million).

Car manufacturing for the mass market is an industry in which size clearly matters because of scale effects. If Australia did not already have a legacy car industry, it clearly would not be established under the current conditions. This tiny industry almost exclusively catering for our tiny market is simply unable to compete with much more efficient car manufacturers abroad.

If a business proposition is no longer viable, then companies need to draw the right conclusions. Indeed, in the KPMG survey, car executives responded that the global overcapacity should be dealt with through cuts in production and industry consolidation. Presumably, that means the weakest car manufacturers should go.

The response of the government is the opposite. By pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars into an industry that will remain unviable for the indefinite future, government is keeping Australian car manufacturing alive for political reasons.

This is an act of cowardice. A courageous government would not give in to the extortionate demands of global car corporates General Motors and Ford, but rather would explain to the Australian public that there is no justification for a car industry that cannot survive without ongoing taxpayer support.

A car industry is only worth having if it is able to stand on its own feet. Keeping an industry alive for the sake of having an industry is economic folly and a waste of taxpayers’ resources.


13 January, 2012

Macquarie University teaching migrant students how to use a toilet correctly

A UNIVERSITY is teaching migrant students how to use a toilet correctly after complaints from cleaners that they were leaving them in an unhygienic state.

The toilet lessons, given on a poster on the backs of cubicle doors at Macquarie University, come after opposition citizenship spokeswoman Teresa Gambaro said migrants should be taught to use deodorant and wait in line, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Posters put up by the university show a person standing on the toilet seat and squatting over the bowl with a line through it. Another crossed-out image shows a person squatting on the floor.

Students are taught how to use sanitary bins, how to flush the toilet and wash their hands in other parts of the diagram under the heading: Protecting each other, use of female toilets. A person sitting on the toilet seat is marked with a tick.

The signs were installed 15 months ago after complaints from a company contracted to clean campus toilets. "We received a complaint from our cleaning contractors about the state of some toilets, they believed that some students may have been squatting above the toilet rather than using them in a conventional western fashion, they were concerned about the cleanliness." a Macquarie University spokesman said.

"They thought it was a health concern and they raised it with the management of the university. We put those posters around the campus in collaboration with the international students group and got advice on what information should be contained." He said the problems had stopped since the signs went up.

Ms Gambaro was forced into an embarrassing apology this week after she suggested migrants on work visas should be taught about hygiene.

The comments caused outrage and Ms Gambaro apologised and said she had been taken out of context. She later said her comments calling for migrants to have lessons covering the use of deodorant and how to wait in line were not Coalition policy.

"Without trying to be offensive, we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country when you are working closely with other co-workers," she said.


Brisbane One Nation candidate targets Indians

Indians are gernerally successful at retail because of their greater willingness to put in long hours

A ONE Nation candidate has courted controversy on his first day on the job, complaining that Indians own most of the local convenience stores.

One Nation state director Ian Nelson made the comments shortly after he announced that he would run for the key seat of Ashgrove.

"Ninety-five per cent of those 7-11 stores are now run by Indian families," he told the Nine Network on Thursday. "Now what's happened to the Australians that man those, that have those leases? "Now they've gone, they're out."

Asked whether he was worried about being labelled racist, Mr Nelson replied, "How is that being a racist?"

Labor member for Ashgrove Kate Jones wasted no time taking to Twitter to ask Liberal National Party leader Campbell Newman whether he was still considering a preference deal with the One Nation party.

"Is Campbell Newman still refusing to put One Nation last after Ian Nelson's comments on Channel 9" she tweeted.

However, Mr Newman had ruled out doing deals with any minor parties or independents at a shadow community cabinet meeting in Ashgrove earlier on Thursday.


Wivenhoe Dam manual offers little direction for another flood, says Queensland expert

BRISBANE and Ipswich residents are at unnecessary risk during major floods because a new manual for controlling Wivenhoe Dam has the same failings as the version used by engineers last January, one of Queensland's most experienced dam experts says.

The criticism comes as hundreds of families in the southeast struggle to rebuild their lives, a year after their homes and businesses were devastated.

Many flood victims were surprised by the damage suffered in locations thought to be safe from flooding or protected by the dam. All are keeping a weather eye out after being told last year by the Bureau of Meteorology to expect more heavy rain this summer.

The Commission of Inquiry into the floods in August ordered dam manager Seqwater to come up with an interim revision of the manual in time for the wet season after Judge Cate Holmes called the document "a bit of a mess". The State Government approved the new manual in October.

But veteran engineer Max Winders, who warned in May of problems with the old manual, said the new version was no better and Seqwater's changes were "there to protect what they did in 2011".

He said the manual was still too simplistic and failed to take into account the complexity of the floodplain. It also still relied on the judgment of operators but without giving them the tools to do their job properly.

"There's nothing new in there," he told The Courier-Mail. "You need a manual that tells you how to minimise the problem, not, 'use your discretion'."

Minister for Natural Resources Rachel Nolan said she was confident that the review leading to the current manual had been "appropriate and thorough". Mostly it had involved technical and language issues, she said. "That's what the commission asked for and that's what the experts did," she said.

Mr Winders, who gave expert testimony to the inquiry on his work for Brisbane Council on downstream impacts of the January 2011 flooding, is a consultant with 50 years' experience advising companies and public authorities on flood mitigation.

He said the manual's failure to focus on river heights down-river in a rapidly changing environment meant operators had no way of knowing how much damage they might do.

"(The revised manual) doesn't do anything because it doesn't set the target for minimising the damage, it just delays the peak (of the flood)," he said. "That's very nice for Fernvale and Lowood but by the time it gets to Brisbane you need a dynamic model."

Seqwater said it had such a model "available" but the body had "no role in forecasting water levels or issuing flood warnings".

The new manual stresses the need to keep river flows at Moggill at less than 4000 cubic metres of water per second (cumecs), the threshold for serious damage in urban areas. But Mr Winders said: "Much more damage was done (in 2011) by letting 7500 cumecs go at the wrong time and this manual does nothing to prevent that".

The revised manual has expanded the flow charts that engineers use to decide what dam release strategy to follow. But Mr Winders said such situations were "too complex for yes/no boxes".

The document also tells engineers to "usually" give "zero or little weight" to 24-hour Bureau of Meteorology forecasts in determining flood mitigation strategies. The bureau declined to comment.

The inquiry also called for a longer-term review of the manual. Ms Nolan said this "optimisation study" would be completed by the end of this year and a new draft then prepared. The inquiry's final report will be published on February 24.


4G poised to sweep Australia

Making Gillard's fibre network obsolete before it is built

THE first 4G mobile phones will arrive before the end of the month, and Australians will be among the first in the world to try them. Running from 2MB to 40MB a second, the 4G network will double current 3G network speeds.

Analysts expect this will be accompanied by raised cap sizes without significant extra cost. Technology and mobile analyst Foad Fadaghi, of Telsyte, said consumers could expect similar prices to 3G plans but with higher data allowances. "It's actually cheaper for them to provide services. We don't think there will be a huge premium that the carriers will be able to charge to them," he said.

Meanwhile 3G service prices will become cheaper, though the slower network will remain the workhorse for phone calls until the 4G network is more widely established and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) calls replace the current system.

However, it is bad news for iPhone fans. Apple is yet to create a 4G-capable phone - even the iPhone 4S has a maximum download speed of 14.4MB.

Telstra will launch its phone, yesterday leaked to Gizmodo website as the HTC Velocity, by the end of the month, but it has not confirmed a date or model.

Scouts from the telco are at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week to see potential 4G models for Australia. "They are checking out a range of technologies including the next generation in mobile tablets, connected home devices and 4G smartphones," a Telstra spokeswoman said

Those considered included the Nokia Lumia 900 (Windows) and the Samsung Galaxy Note (Android). LG has also indicated it will have 4G phones on the market from June.

Telstra already has tested its 4G network with USB devices for computers, but when phones enter areas not covered by the network they will slip back to 3G systems.

Optus will launch its 4G network, in development since November, from April with Melbourne to get it mid-year.

Vodafone is building its 4G network, but was not able to say when it would be available to customers.


* The Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G is the fourth generation of Australia's mobile wireless internet.

* The system substantially increases the speed which mobile devices download and upload the internet.

* Currently most developed parts of Australia operate a 3G network.

* It is currently only available on computer via a USB plug in.


12 January, 2012

PM orders whalers out

Japan may recognize only the old 3 mile limit

A JAPANESE harpoon ship in Australian waters off Macquarie Island is not welcome and would shortly be leaving, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday.

The Yushin Maru No. 3 was photographed off the World Heritage-listed island late yesterday by activists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Ms Gillard said the Australian Government had made it clear to Japan that the ship - which had spent at least 24 hours less than 10 nautical miles off the internationally recognised wildlife refuge - was an unwelcome guest.

"As recently as yesterday we reiterated our view to the Japanese Government that whaling vessels are not welcome in Australian territorial waters," she said.

"Now I'm aware that there has been a vessel which has been in Australian territorial waters and I'm advised that it will leave Australian territorial waters.

"It's been a long-standing view that whaling ships are not welcome in our waters, and we've said that to the Japanese Government but we've reiterated it yesterday."

Greens leader Bob Brown described the ship's presence as provocative and called on the Government to send a navy ship to assert Australia's authority. "Australian law prohibits that ship from being there Canberra knows that, Tokyo knows that," he said. "This is simply just not acceptable Australians will not want a Japanese ship wantonly and flagrantly breaching Australian law.

"It is a breach of our national environment law and it really ought to be rectified immediately."

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said that a 2008 Federal Court order had banned all whaling ships from Australian waters. "A whale-killing vessel has no business in waters of a World Heritage site," a spokesman said.


Carbon tax will eat car grants, says industry

LABOR'S latest grants to the struggling Australian car industry risk being undermined by its own clean energy plans, with millions of dollars of the subsidies to be eaten up by the carbon tax and higher electricity costs associated with the new regime.

Anger in the industry over the impact of the carbon tax - and the fact that domestic manufacturers will have to absorb the cost while many importers will not - has permeated negotiations as the government has sought commitments from Ford and General Motors Holden to continue their operations in Australia.

Manufacturing Minister Kim Carr clinched a deal with Ford in Detroit this week, agreeing to contribute $34 million of federal government funds towards a $103m package to improve the efficiency of its local cars and maintain its Australian operations to 2016.

But calculations based on Ford's previous emissions suggest that, when the $23-a-tonne carbon tax begins on July 1, its maximum bill for direct emissions may be $3.3m over the next four years.

It could also pay a maximum $19.8m in higher prices as the cost of the carbon tax is passed on by suppliers, particularly electricity providers.

The government is adamant the final carbon tax bill will be significantly lower for Ford and all other car companies because not all of its operations are in facilities that emit more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the liability threshold for the carbon tax.

The government also believes that Ford's indirect costs will be much lower as the full cost of the carbon tax price will not be passed on by suppliers of electricity or other components.

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Ian Chalmers said that the carbon tax was expected to cost the local manufacturers $50m-$60m over the next four years. He said this would have to be absorbed because many imported cars were not facing a comparable carbon pricing regime.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said Ford's potential carbon tax liabilities showed the "senselessness of the government's policies".

"On one hand, they are handing out taxpayers' money to supposedly protect jobs, while on the other they are taking back that money via the carbon tax," he said. "It is a ridiculous situation and will . . . put Australian jobs at risk."

Senator's Carr's rescue mission to Detroit comes as the local industry has been hit by the high Australian dollar, which has made foreign-made cars more attractive, and a global economic downturn that has stymied exports.

Senator Carr and the South Australian government are negotiating with General Motors to maintain its local operations, with a deal that could be as high as $100m. Based on the same emissions calculations, Holden's domestic operations could face a worst-case scenario of $3.1m in carbon tax over four years for direct emissions and $11.6m for indirect emissions.

Toyota, the only other local car manufacturer, faces up to $4.1m for direct emissions and $12.6m for indirect emissions. However, the actual carbon tax liabilities are expected to be much lower.

A spokeswoman for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said it could be misleading to use company-wide emissions data, possibly aggregated from a few facilities, to determine the cost exposure of a particular facility. Facilities such as manufacturing plants will not have to pay the carbon tax if they produce less than 25,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. "Due to individual facility-level coverage thresholds, not all direct carbon emissions will be subject to liability under the carbon pricing mechanism," Mr Combet said.

"In addition, 'Scope 2' electricity emissions reported in states with highly emissions-intensive generators, such as in Victoria, will significantly overstate the cost pass-through of a carbon price. It is also important to note that key emissions intensive inputs into car manufacturing, such as aluminium, steel and glass, will be provided 94.5 per cent assistance in free permits under the Jobs and Competitiveness Program."

The South Australian Liberal opposition said yesterday any state taxpayer funds used to prop up Holden's ailing Elizabeth plant should be used as a carbon tax subsidy, as the company faced massive increases in costs from July.

Opposition industry spokesman Steven Marshall said Holden's South Australian plant, which builds the Commodore and Cruze, would be the first victim of the carbon tax when it came into operation on July 1.

Last June, Holden managing director Mike Devereux estimated a carbon price of between $20 and $30 a tonne would raise the company's costs by $40m to $50m.


Eco pirates deserve a long haul, not a free trip home

Geoff Tuxworth, Simon Petterffy and and Glen Pendlebury are determined Australian pirates. They may only be passive-aggressive, but they are aggressive nonetheless. On Saturday night, under the cover of darkness, they approached a commercial vessel with a determination to board the craft and impose their will on the crew.

To do so, they acted in the full knowledge that they were operating outside the law, would be committing an act of trespass and were beyond Australian territory. They had to travel 40 kilometres to sea from Bunbury in Western Australia, well past the limit of Australian territorial waters, which is 22 kilometres. They had to get past spikes. They had to avoid razor wire. They worked in darkness. They risked tipping into an ocean swell.

Once on board they sought to dictate terms. They demanded that the vessel they had just illegally boarded, the Shonan Maru No.2, return them to Australia and abort its mission. If their demands were not met, they would go on a hunger strike.

The Japanese ship has continued to sail south. The three men are now captive and, having entered a Japanese ship in international waters, are subject to Japanese law.

I keep encountering news reports describing this as a diplomatic "crisis" between Australian and Japan. What crisis? There is no crisis.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has offered no sympathy for the protesters: "The conduct of these three Australians in my view is unacceptable." This would please the Japanese government. She has also complained that the cost of extracting the three men would run to hundreds of thousands of dollars in the expense of sending a ship to get them.

Her views will resonate widely with Australians even though the overwhelming majority are, like me, opposed to Japan's continued whale hunting, especially in southern waters far from Japan. The federal government has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice in an effort to curb its whaling operations.

We've also had dubious commentary from another pirate operating far from his home waters, Paul Watson, a Canadian who runs the anti-whaling operation called Sea Shepherd. It was Sea Shepherd vessels which took the three illicit boarders to the Japanese ship.

Having aided the trespass, Watson told the media: "I think the Australian government would be very embarrassed if an armed Japanese vessel can just pick up Australian citizens in Australia and then take them away to Japan. Japanese vessels have no right to take prisoners in Australian waters."

Pull the other one. The incident did not take place in Australian territory, and the "prisoners" went to great effort to get into their prison. Australia has a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, which the Shonan Maru No. 2 had entered, but it was entitled to do so as this zone is not the same as territorial water.

The great flaw in the environmental movement is the sanctimonious belligerence of so many of its protagonists, the lies and exaggerations, and the assumption that they are above the law and can disrupt and destroy the businesses of other people who are operating lawfully.

The three men who boarded the Japanese vessel are a classic example. They belong to a small group in Western Australia called Forest Rescue, which specialises in blockades and hyperbole. As its website states: "Forest Rescue have a no compromise approach against anything that threatens Western Australia's biodiversity … our state is on the brink of ecological collapse by native forest logging, land clearing and mining companies."

If justice were to be served, Tuxworth, 47, Petterffy, 44, and Pendlebury, 27, would be on the first leg of a long journey down to the Southern Ocean, then back to Japan, then into the care of the Japanese justice system. We might see them back in Australia in six months, at no cost to the Australian taxpayer.

If they regarded this as too great an indignity, and engaged in a hunger strike, they should be allowed to be the masters of their own fate. Let them accept the consequences of their own brinkmanship. Nobody forced them into this predicament. Nobody did them any harm.

I say this even though I believe Japan's whaling operation is pointless and cruel and the three men acted with physical courage, are not seeking personal gain and are not engaging in violent acts.

As I write, the Australian Customs ship Ocean Protector is on its way to an ocean rendezvous with the Shonan Maru No. 2 to collect these three men. So the Gillard government is doing what it does best: wasting taxpayers' dollars while managing to achieve the worst of both worlds - not sending a strong message to Japan and not sending a strong message to law-breaking, grandstanding, moral blackmailers.


Australian Jews complain to broadcaster about TV series ‘The Promise’

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has complained with the Australian broadcaster SBS about the British-made television series ‘The Promise’, which it says conveys anti-Jewish stereotypes. ‘The Promise’ was produced in association with SBS, ECAJ says. In a letter to SBS, the Jewish umbrella body alleges that the series “promotes, endorses and reinforces demeaning stereotypes about Jews as a group. All of the principal Jewish characters (and thus by implication Jews generally) are portrayed negatively and, ultimately, without any redeeming virtues. They are cast as variously cruel, violent, hateful, ruthless, unfeeling, amoral, treacherous, racist and/or hypocritical.”

The complaint adds that “The ancient libel that holds all Jews throughout history to be collectively guilty of killing Jesus has been segued into the equally ludicrous proposition that all Jews are collectively guilty of the wanton shedding of innocent blood, a staple of contemporary Palestinian propaganda. The series also panders to stereotypes about Jews being immoderately wealthy and having acquired their wealth unfairly.” The letter goes on to say that the “cumulative effect of these consistently negative portrayals of all of the principal Jewish characters and of the series’ numerous misrepresentations of the relevant historical background in a way that consistently casts Jews in a negative light is to demean Jews as a group.”

“The relevant historical events (and their misrepresentation) and the principal Jewish characters are vehicles for attributing negative traits to Jews generally across time and space. ‘The Promise’ utilizes and reinforces racist tropes about Jews that, but for a brief post-WWII respite, have been embedded in western civilization since pre-Christian times and are not in any way comparable to negative portrayals of other groups,” the letter states.

The four-part series ‘The Promise’, written and directed by British filmmaker Peter Kosminsky, tells a fictional story about Erin (played by actress Claire Foy, pictured left), an 18-year-old British girl who visits her Israeli friend Eliza, Eliza’s parents and brother Paul in Israel in 2005. Erin carries and progressively reads through the diary of her grandfather, Len, which describes Len’s experiences while serving as a sergeant in the British army in the 1940s.

First screened in the UK in February 2011 and in France in March 2011, critics and Jewish organizations in both countries condemned the series. Jonathan Freedland of the UK newspaper ‘The Guardian’ accused Kosminsky of using anti-Semitic stereotypes. The Board of Deputies of British Jews also complained, but Ofcom, the UK’s regulatory watchdog for the TV and film industry, said the program was not in breach of any of its guidelines. Kosminsky rejected the criticism, saying that his plot was based on interviews with 80 British veterans who served in Mandatory Palestine until 1948 and who he says had become more and more anti-Jewish during their service there.

In its complaint, which is backed up by a detailed documentation, ECAJ says that ‘The message to the audience is that the British (symbolized by Len) were implicated in depriving the Palestinians of their ‘rightful ownership’ of the country (symbolized by their loss of the key) in the late 1940s and accordingly the British, and the West generally, are now morally obliged to ‘restore’ ownership of the country to the Palestinians (symbolized by Erin returning the key to the Palestinian family).”

The letter adds that the TV series “does not even pretend to address the deeper historical justification for Israel’s existence as the State of the Jewish people. Nor does it portray (let alone question) the decision of the Palestinian leadership and the Arab League to use force to prevent the implementation by the UN of its resolution in favor of partition in November 1947.”


11 January, 2012

Must not speak the truth about "boat people"

("Boat people" are illegal immigrants, mostly Afghans and other poorly educated Muslims, who arrive in Australian waters by boat. They are immediatey imprisoned on arrival while their claims to be asylum seekers are assessed)

SERCO, the company that runs immigration detention, has stood down an officer who posted Facebook comments saying Muslim children in detention did not deserve Christmas presents and male detainees taught their children it was acceptable to beat wives.

The Serco officer, who has direct contact with asylum seekers held at the Darwin Airport Lodge, posted the Facebook comments on Monday, after an incident in which Christmas presents for 200 children were not handed out by officers until 12 days after Christmas.

"A member of Serco Immigration Services staff has been suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation," a spokesman for the company said yesterday.

In the first Facebook comment, the officer wrote: "Sad for all the Christian kids! Not sure why Islamist (sic?) would want Christmas present."

A short time later he posted: "I don't know of any country in the world that you can enter illegally an be granted freedom immediately! No one abuses them, perhaps u forget the saying it takes two to tango. Maybe you need to come and face these men who teach their children that women have no rights. I guess you must think there is nothing wrong with domestic violence."

Victoria Martin-Iverson, a West Australian refugee advocate, saw the comments posted on Serco Watch, a Facebook page that monitors news about the multinational company that runs prisons in Britain as well as Australia's immigration detention network. The officer had boldly included his real name, which linked back to his own Facebook page that stated he was a Serco officer in Darwin.

"I thought they were pretty outrageous comments," Ms Martin-Iverson said. "What he essentially said is they are wife beaters. It is horrific and he is working directly with asylum seekers." She contacted the immigration department and the department's compliance division responded.

An immigration department spokeswoman said: "The department is aware of the incident. The detention services provider is investigating the matter as they are required to do under the terms of their contract."


Conservative politician sorry for saying migrants don't know how to wear deodorant or line up properly

Her comments were undoubtedly too general but the big immigration issue in Australia at the moment is the "boat people" -- and most Australians would have understood that she was referring to them. And her comments would have been true of many of them

A Liberal [Party] MP who said migrants should learn how to use deodorant has been reprimanded by her party and ordered to apologise.

Opposition citizenship spokeswoman Teresa Gambaro said lessons on hygiene and common courtesy would make immigrants fit in better in Australia, the Herald Sun reported.

Acting Opposition Leader Warren Truss said Ms Gambaro had been left in no doubt she was out of line. "She obviously went too far in her comments and they're certainly out of step with modern Australian attitudes," he said.

While declining to say who doled out the discipline, Mr Truss said: "Certainly she's been made aware that the comments were inappropriate. They weren't in line with Coalition policy and she's acknowledged that."

Ms Gambaro had said new arrivals should be taught to use deodorant on public transport and not push in when queuing, as well as other lessons like the importance of immunisation. "Without trying to be offensive, we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country," she said in an interview with The Australian.

The comments sparked a tirade of community anger, followed by a statement in which Ms Gambaro said the comments were "taken out of context". But she admitted they were inappropriate and did not reflect Coalition policy, and apologised for any offence caused.

Migration groups said the comments were offensive, pointing out that migrants on 457 visas were skilled professionals such as managers, engineers and accountants.


Teachers stay with religion

SCHOOLS in Tasmania have overwhelmingly chosen to keep religious chaplains, after a change last year that meant they could also take on non-religious welfare workers.

Of 96 roles in Tasmania, 89 have been set aside for a chaplain or religious worker, four by welfare workers with three not yet determined.

Schools will apply for the next round of Federal Government-funded welfare workers by March 2.

Scripture Union Tasmania said that its chaplains were equally happy ministering to students from a non-Christian background. "The job description of the welfare worker and the chaplain is identical, down to providing spiritual support," chief executive officer Ruth Pinkerton said.

Schools can get up to $60,000 over three years for chaplain or student welfare workers.


$15m wasted on another Qld. State Government IT disaster

When will governments learn to buy "off the shelf" computer systems only?

THE State Government has blown $15 million of taxpayer money on a project that may never see the light of day.

Queensland Treasury Corporation (QTC) is responsible for the IT disaster, which has seen millions given to an external company to develop an online finance platform and overhaul QTC's "customer transaction system".

In April 2009, QTC, which manages public sector debt and investments, handed a contract to Temenos, a global company headquartered in Switzerland that provides banking software to organisations around the world, to implement its T24 banking system "as the core platform of their (QTC's) Onlending and Investment Administration (OLIA) solution," according to a Temenos announcement.

However, the company was dumped when its contract was terminated shortly before Christmas as the date for the system to go live blew out.

In the QTC 2008/09 annual report, the new system is "scheduled for implementation by July 2010", but in the following year's report the launch date is pushed back to be "delivered in 2011".

Writing in the 2009/10 QTC annual report, then acting Chairman, Alex Beavers, and then chief executive, Stephen Rochester, who is now chairman, trumpet the project as one of the "largest organisation-wide initiatives QTC has ever undertaken".

"(It) will provide customers with significant autonomy with routine financial management transactions, and generate efficiencies for QTC that will enable us to focus more resources on high-priority, value-adding advisory work," the report reads.

However in a sign the roll out of the system was not going according to plan, the most recent annual report does not mention Temenos and describes the project without the fanfare of the previous year.

"Development continued on the client transaction system that will, when rolled out, offer clients an enhanced experience and greater efficiency by allowing them to undertake day-to-day management of their own borrowing requirements online," it says in a bullet point on page nine of the 2010/11 report.

The disclosure statement between QTC and Temenos blames the dumping of Temenos on a "strategic review" of the project objectives which "identified a desired change in the project's direction".

Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the contract was scrapped "to ensure a value-for-money outcome’’.

Opposition IT spokeswoman Ros Bates said it was another embarrassing IT gaffe from the Bligh Government. "My understanding is the contract for T24 was terminated just before Christmas 2011, as the go live date kept getting pushed out," she said. "Under this long-term Labor government it's clear that IT disasters are not just confined to the Health department."

QTC, which is responsible for allocating funding, cash management, and advising on financial risk management to the State Government and public sector organisations, released a statement to The Courier-Mail saying $7.5 million had been paid to Temenos for software and services, with a "similar" amount paid to QTC staff working on the system delivery. QTC said the total budget for the project was $27.4 million.

"QTC is no longer implementing Temenos' core banking software platform. Instead, much of the functionality developed during the project will continue to be implemented into QTC's existing IT platform," QTC, which manages $65 billion of loans and investments, said in the statement. "QTC will now continue to develop their IT upgrade internally." [Yet more waste???]

With an election tipped to be called this month, the latest government IT gaffe comes after it was revealed last month $46 million was wasted on an inter-departmental email system which caters for just 2000 accounts - costing $23,000 per user.


10 January, 2012

Migrants don't know how to wear deodorant or queue up, says Liberal Teresa Gambaro

MIGRANTS should be taught about the importance of wearing deodorant and waiting in queues without pushing in, the Federal Opposition says.

Cultural awareness training should also be given by employers bringing skilled migrants into Australia under the 457 visa program, the coalition's citizenship spokeswoman Teresa Gambaro told The Australian.

In an interview with the newspaper, Ms Gambaro said she was concerned about new migrants on work visas not integrating into the community because Australia had failed to teach them about cultural issues related to health, hygiene and lifestyle.

"Without trying to be offensive, we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country when you are working closely with other co-workers," she said.

Wearing deodorant and waiting in line politely were about "teaching what are norms in Australia".

The MP for Brisbane said while her comments may upset people, migrants also needed to be educated about their rights and how to improve their chances of getting work.


Boatful of Sri Lankan "asylum seekers" adds to Australian concerns

One of three asylum-seeker boats to arrive in Australia since the start of this year is met by authorities at Christmas Island at the weekend. Picture: Scott Fisher Source: The Australian
THE interception by the Sri Lankan navy of a group of asylum-seekers bound for Australia has heightened concerns that Indonesia's plans to relax its visa restrictions could lead to a sharp spike in the number of boatpeople attempting the hazardous journey.

Last Friday, a group of 22 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers preparing to travel to Australia via Indonesia was intercepted by the Sri Lankan navy before they left the port city of Tangalle.

The group's thwarted bid came just days after Indonesia announced plans to relax visa restrictions on citizens from several countries, including Sri Lanka.

The number of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers arriving in Australia has declined over the past year, but in announcing an easing of the visa requirements last week, Indonesia's director-general of immigration with the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Bambang Irawan, conceded the new plan could lead to a surge in asylum-seeker traffic to Australia.

Last night, a spokeswoman for the Gillard government said Australia was engaged in discussions with Indonesian authorities about the planned changes to the country's visa requirements.
"Australia and Indonesia are committed to working together and with other source, transit and destination countries to develop regional solutions," the spokeswoman said.

"The government will continue to monitor the visa arrangements and their impact, and will work with Indonesia to address any issues that arise."

While the federal government has so far refused to speculate directly on Indonesian policy, Tony Abbott last week expressed his concern about the mooted changes to the visa requirements and the consequences for Australia. "Obviously, nearly all of the boats come from Indonesia and if potential boat arrivals can more easily enter Indonesia, there is potential for a problem."

"I don't believe that now is the time to be critical of Indonesia. It is the Australian government which has really fallen down on the job here," the Opposition Leader said.

In December, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd sat down with their counterparts Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop in a bid to reach a compromise on offshore processing policy. Those discussions are said to be "ongoing".

The interception of the Sri Lankan vessel and the arrival of three asylum-seeker boats in the first week of this year has accentuated the urgency of the issue.

On Saturday, a boat carrying 119 suspected asylum-seekers and two crew was intercepted off the West Australian coast.

Opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan said the third arrival in a week was evidence the people-smuggler trade was not slowing. "Labor must show some resolve, end their arms-wide-open policy and stop encouraging people-smugglers by taking away the product they have to sell," Mr Keenan said.


Penalty rates under fire from celebrity chef

CELEBRITY chef George Calombaris has entered the industrial relations debate, slamming as uneconomical penalty rates faced by restaurateurs under the federal Fair Work Act.

Calombaris, who stars in the high-rating MasterChef TV show, has complained about the rates he will have to pay staff at his new Melbourne pasta bar, due to open this month, claiming it is up to $40 an hour per worker on Sundays.

"And it's not like they've had to go to uni for 15 years," he told the Power Index website yesterday. "The problem is that wages on public holidays and weekend greatly exceed the opportunity for profit. So our labour laws are something that need to be looked at." The cost of eating out in Australia was expensive because of the workplace relations regime, Calombaris said.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten disagrees with Calombaris on penalty rates. "If George wants to bargain with his workers and improve productivity and be even more competitive, then the tools exist in our present workplace system," the website, which is owned by publisher Eric Beecher's Private Media Pty Ltd, cited him as saying.

"Penalty rates compensate wait staff and others who have to work late nights, public holidays and weekends while everyone else gets to spend this time with family and friends. "The Gillard government won't be adopting the low road of paying already low-paid workers less."

But Institute of Public Affairs work reform director John Lloyd said Mr Shorten and the unions should be listening to Calombaris' concerns because he joined a growing list of restaurant owners warning penalty rates could force restaurant closures and job losses.

"Under the current system the penalty rates are underpinned by an award and basically set in concrete," Mr Lloyd said in a statement. "The Rudd/Gillard workplace relations system has imposed a rigid set of rules."

Small businesses were opting out of genuine bargaining with their employees, with initiatives offering growth to businesses and job security for employees not being pursued, Mr Lloyd said.

Mr Lloyd said that while unions offered platitudes about enterprise bargaining, in practice they would not even entertain the slightest reduction in agreement or award terms.

He said the review of the Fair Work Act was too modest. The review is set to be completed and handed to the government by an independent panel in May.


Shackle the free press? Crikey, it just doesn't bear thinking about

Gerard Henderson

As the saying goes: "Can you bear it?" In much of the Western world, the established media is under threat from social media. It is at this time that some who once benefited from old media become critical of all journalism.

Take the Crikey publisher, Eric Beecher, who is a former newspaper editor. In his submission to the independent media inquiry, headed by Ray Finkelstein, QC, Beecher declared that there was not enough focus on "quality journalism" in Australia, which he regards as central to "civilised society".

All well and good. Except for the fact Beecher's Crikey newsletter is not the embodiment of quality journalism. For starters, it does not engage a fact-checker. Indeed, the online publication actually proclaims the fact it publishes undocumented "tips and rumours". Crikey also, on occasions, publishes the home addresses of people who are targets of its occasional contributors.
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Last month, Crikey reported on my (alleged) poor behaviour while attending an ABC TV pre-record function in Sydney. I was in Washington DC at the time. On another occasion, Crikey published an article by Mark Latham containing my home address. Both pieces were followed by after-the-event apologies. Neither would have got through in the first instance if Crikey had proper editorial checking. Yet Beecher sees fit to call for more government regulation of the print media and to lecture-at-large about quality journalism.

Then there is Latham himself. The former Labor leader has lodged a complaint with the Press Council concerning recent reports in The Sunday Telegraph about his behaviour at a public school swimming program in Camden. The newspaper reported he vehemently criticised Bev Waugh, mother of the cricketers Steve and Mark Waugh, about the program.

These days Latham apparently believes he is a victim of media intrusion and that his utterances in public places should not be reported. If the Press Council upholds this complaint, media freedom will be severely curtailed. Latham is a columnist with The Spectator Australia and The Australian Financial Review and appears as a commentator on Sky News (part-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd). In addition, Latham receives an indexed superannuation benefit of around $75,000 a year, due to his time as a federal parliamentarian. In other words, he is the beneficiary of taxpayer funding.

As the Transport Workers Union official Wayne Forno pointed out in the AFR in 2003, virtually all the jobs Latham held, up to and including becoming Labor leader, were "provided by the ALP". His employment after politics is a consequence of his time as a Labor MP.

In recent years Latham has been banging on about the primacy of privacy. In August last year he wrote that "no matter one's standing in society, a basic right of citizenship is the capacity to enjoy the quiet pleasures of a private life".

The problem is one of double standards. The Latham Diaries (Melbourne University Press, 2005) named a married Labor parliamentarian as having had a "long-running relationship" with a female lobbyist in Canberra, who was named. Latham also identified a female journalist in Sydney with whom he "once had a fling". And he cited a former ALP staffer whom he claimed had an affair with the "missus" of a senior Labor official in Melbourne. And now Latham is pleading with the Press Council to prevent a newspaper from reporting a public exchange he had with a swimming coach.

In August 2002, Latham issued a release of a speech he planned to give in a grievance debate in the House of Representatives. He misjudged the time limit, and only the first half of the speech was delivered. In the second half, Latham attempted to defend his actions in breaking the arm of an East European-born taxi driver, who had a wife and dependent children, during an altercation. Latham named the taxi driver and then asserted that the man "aspired to workers' compensation and that's what he's now got". It is a callous and cruel comment that also took no account of the taxi driver's right to privacy.

The call for greater regulation of the print media does not just come from former editors and ex-politicians. In his decision in Eatock v Bolt last September, Judge Mordecai Bromberg made findings concerning not only what the News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt wrote about "fair-skinned Aboriginal people" but also what he did not write. Bromberg objected to Bolt's "tone" and said it was important "to also read between the lines". This, despite the fact the law is supposed to be about establishing facts - not making inferences.

There is good reason for the media to act responsibly. But there is also good reason to preserve a free media, independent of excessive regulation. And there is no reason to listen to the likes of Beecher and Latham on what constitutes responsible media behaviour. It's just not bearable.


9 January, 2012

Foreign aid money feeds fat profits for corporations

Foreign aid is a joke and a racket. As the late Peter Bauer once said, it is "an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries."

AUSTRALIA'S booming foreign-aid program is delivering handsome profits to a group of seven corporations that has scored a staggering $1.81 billion in taxpayer-funded contracts.

But the lack of scrutiny of their profits, and huge sums being provided to agencies such as the World Bank, which receives $450 million a year, is under challenge.

Aid experts and the Opposition are demanding greater accountability for the money being spent to tackle global poverty.

GRM International had $500 million in AusAID contracts over the past 18 months, including $92 million to encourage Africans to study here.

Cardno, which lists former defence chief Peter Cosgrove on its board of directors, and which reported a record $59 million profit last year, has $442 million in contracts.

Coffey International booked $353.4 million in contracts, including $31 million to weed out corruption in Papua New Guinea.

The dividends for shareholders and executives will grow even fatter because Australia's aid budget is forecast to soar to about $8.5 billion by 2015-16.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd has pledged to spend record sums trying to tackle poverty in some of the world's poorest countries, but the rise in spending is causing resentment among ministerial colleagues.

Contract information listed on the Government's AusTender site shows SMEC International, which grew out of the Snowy Mountains scheme, had $202.9 million in contracts since July, 2010.

Aid money is also encouraging global firms to establish Australian branches, including the US-based URS, which had $170 million listed in contracts.

Stephen Howes, part of the high-level review of the foreign-aid program, wants a "greater level of scrutiny", particularly given the large increases in funding.

"There are risks that as quantity goes up, quality goes down," said Prof Howes, who is director of the Australian National University's Development Policy Centre. "As the money goes up, the scrutiny should go up as well," he said.

The review recommended the Government establish an independent evaluation committee to oversee AusAID's effectiveness in delivering tangible results.

Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop is demanding Mr Rudd urgently announce how he plans to better measure performance benchmarks of the aid program, as recommended by the review.


Government doles out tough love for teenage parents

COOKING classes will be among the life skills programs offered to teen parents in the Federal Government's tough-love welfare trial.

The first 1000 teens to join the trial, which ties Centrelink payments to efforts to finish year 12, have been sent letters telling them what they have to do. From next Monday, teenagers who have children between six months and six years old must book a meeting with welfare staff to discuss their education plans.

If they fail to meet appointments and do not have a valid excuse, they could lose parenting payments.

During the first Helping Young Parents meetings, discussions will also cover free support measures, such as childcare, that can be used to allow more study time. Other support measures include cooking tuition, parenting classes and budgeting advice.

The classes are separate from the requirement young parents must try to finish year 12 or its equivalent.

Human Services Minister Brendan O'Connor said the trial, which in Victoria will run in Hume and Shepparton, had been designed to give young people a range of skills. "This is about equipping them with the education that will help them enter the workplace," he said.

He said cutting off parenting payments would be a last resort, and that a reprieve was possible. "If parents do have their payments suspended, as soon as they get back in touch with Centrelink and start up their activities again, they will have their payments back-paid," he said.

The back-pay rule will help placate concerns from social services groups' that cutting welfare could lead to more problems for young families.

To coincide with the first Centrelink meetings, a new blog site will go live on January 16, allowing young parents to talk directly to other participants.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said encouraging teens to finish school would help them later in life.


Free Skype 'much better' than Labor's $7.2m telehealth grant

RURAL doctors received $7.2 million from the federal government for software to enable them to communicate more easily with specialists, but some found downloading Skype was a better option.

Since the launch of the federal scheme six months ago, 1200 doctors across Australia have applied for one-off $6000 grants, which were part of the government's $620 million "telehealth" program.

But the head of a private nursing service that took part in the scheme said doctors who downloaded various paid software programs found they were not compatible.

"It's a great … initiative but the doctors should have been provided with more support and guidance about how to implement the technology," the chief executive of Hunter Nursing, David du Plessis, said.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Paul Mara said the use of Skype among doctors was common.

"In many cases it works much better than some of the more sophisticated things out there," he said. "There is a whole range of technologies and, in establishing video-conferencing, [doctors] are not going to go out and buy some extravaganza of a system, they are going to stick with the simple stuff.

"Inevitably, there will be shonky players coming into something like this. Doctors have concerns about people putting together hardware and software and calling it a video-conferencing solution."

It is unclear how many of the 1200 doctors who received the grant have downloaded and used Skype for work and there is no suggestion any doctors have misappropriated government funds.

The telehealth scheme was launched last June and aims to provide for nearly 500,000 digital consultations by mid-2015. Instead of country residents travelling far to visit medical specialists, they can visit a local GP and have the appointment by video link.

The scheme also depends on the rollout of the national broadband network bringing fast internet links to rural communities.

A federal Department of Health and Ageing spokeswoman said the government was ensuring access to technical advice and that the payment to set up digital consultations was not meant only for software.

"It is paid to encourage change in the way doctors provide services, and recognises that incorporating telehealth into everyday work flows represents a significant change to traditional practice," she said.


Camping's all white, but you can keep it

By Tanveer Ahmed

I have just returned from a trip where I lay for hours prone on a thin strip of air with only polystyrene separating my strained back from the ground below. The rain belted down all night and its thud upon the tent sounded like a stream of thunder. I pondered whether nature was overrated while several kookaburras shrieked in unison and dragged me in a kind of aural violence from my first period of restful sleep at 5am.

Welcome to the joys of camping.

According to Monash University academic Bill Garner, camping is essential to the Australian experience. From Sydney Cove to the goldfields, the overland telegraph to the Snowy Mountains scheme, camping has been instrumental to almost every phase of our historical development, he says.

It was supposed to be one of those dowdy pastimes that became perversely fashionable for a moment, only to become just as unfashionable again once everybody tried it and found out what it actually entailed.

Yet, according to industry insiders, camping is experiencing a boom, partly due to the lacklustre economy and an aversion to extravagance and environmental unfriendliness.

"Glamping" - sleeping in a luxuriously appointed tent someone else has put up for you - is increasingly seen as an acceptable, if not preferable, alternative to a bed-and-breakfast booking.

In our high-tech world, a striving towards gadget-free simplicity and proximity to nature acquires a greater dimension. This may be more apparent in Australia, where our national identity is partly tied to the rugged environment.

But while it has shifted from practical necessity to leisure activity in the past 50 years, there are large sections of Australia that would never consider camping as an idyllic way to spend their holidays - particularly those from ethnic communities.

As I surveyed my surroundings in a coastal caravan park, I was struck that I was the only non-white person among hundreds of gleeful holidaymakers. For many people from ethnic backgrounds, particularly Asian or Mediterranean, the connection between simple living and poverty is just too strong.

Any attempt to brag about my view of green pastures and scenic lakes to my parents is met by comparisons with their own rise from Bangladeshi villages.

In his popular blog "Stuff White People Like", Charles Lander writes: "Once in the camp area, white people will walk around for a while, set up a tent, have a horrible night of sleep, walk around some more. Then they get in the car and go home."

While his blog is often a satire of the bourgeois middle class - our equivalent of the chardonnay socialist - camping arguably unites the white working class and the white middle class in one of their few shared activities, even if they are unlikely to be sharing the same tent.

The late Oxford-based political philosopher G. A. Cohen even used camping as an analogy for why socialism is still the ideal way to organise society.

He described an imaginary camping trip made by several different families, and argued that the trip proceeded according to two principles - "an egalitarian principle" and "a principle of community" - that together captured the socialist vision of a just society.

Nonetheless, after lying awake listening to the nocturnal sounds of nature, I became grateful for our capitalist ability to generate wealth and modern goods and services, including mass production of pharmaceuticals, when I prescribed myself sleeping tablets the following morning.

The prospect of camping becoming a unifying, cultural experience for all Australians remains a possibility, with latter generations of immigrants far more likely to consider it a viable leisure activity.

In fact, in an age where we lack outlets for transcendence, camping has the potential to become the new Buddhism. It encourages us to loosen our attachment to worldly goods, except for expensive outdoor equipment usually transported to a site in a four-wheel-drive. It encourages extended contemplation free from the constant distractions of hectic, modern life.

And finally, it allows for the priceless luxury of simplicity and enjoyment of pure family time, well worth the complexity of preparation required. As Bill Garner put it in an attempt to sell the virtues of this unique leisure activity, "You do just spend a lot of time sitting".


8 January, 2012

Bad grades prompt surge in university death threats

Australia gets a lot of its overseas students from Malaysia, some of whom are Muslim. Note that ethnicity is carefully not mentioned below

UNIVERSITY lecturers are getting death threats from international students who have received bad grades. Victoria Police are investigating one case at a state campus after an email was sent to a lecturer stating: "I will kill u and your family."

It is understood the email was sent from a student who was given a low mark at the end of last semester and warned the lecturer to expect an attack on university grounds.

Four staff members from three Victorian universities told the Sunday Herald Sun threats against tertiary staff by international students were becoming more common. Cars had been defaced with graffiti, teachers' houses vandalised and staff physically intimidated and stalked by students.

One source said universities were reluctant to act on threats because international students were full fee-paying "cash cows". They are required to pay fees in advance and usually spend between $14,000 and $35,000 a year for a bachelor of arts and more for other degrees such as medicine, according to Australian Government estimates.

More than 151,000 international students were enrolled in different degrees at universities in Victoria last year.

Clinical psychologist Lisa Warren said she dealt with up to 15 cases involving university staff last year. Dr Warren said the majority of the threats were made by email or on social networking sites by international and local students.

In the incident being probed by police, the emailer wrote: "Why did u give the f---ing low marks? I will kill u and your family next year 2012. "I promise i will kill u excluding any cost, believe me."

The victim, who did not want to be named, told the Sunday Herald Sun he was shocked and afraid the threat would be carried out. "I have colleagues in the rooms next to me and if someone was to come in waving a gun it is a threat against all of us," he said.

Police have contacted the Immigration Department about the threat, the victim said.

Dr Warren said in severe cases victims of threats could be traumatised for life. "Most of the time it is just a blunt and ineffective way of communication, but anything that suggests the student has personal information, such as where the victim's house is or where their child goes to school, is worrying," Dr Warren said.


Wharfies back in old form now Gillard's in charge

They were famous for their outrageous demands until they were crushed during the Howard government

INDUSTRIAL action that would have shut down half of the Port of Melbourne for 48 hours from Sunday night has been called off, the wharfies' union says.

About 500 DP World stevedores were to stop work in Melbourne for 24 hours from 10pm (AEDT) today following an eight-month dispute between the company and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) over pay and conditions.

The company was set to retaliate with a 24-hour lock-out of its staff to begin immediately after the stoppage.

The action would have shut down half of the container terminal facilities in the Port of Melbourne for 48 hours.

After a 48-hour stoppage by the union last week in Adelaide, DP World retaliated with a 24-hour lock-out, disrupting operations for 72 hours.

The stoppage by Melbourne workers was called off on Saturday after they accepted an in-principle agreement for a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

The agreement was reached following a seven-hour meeting between the union and the company in Sydney on Friday night, MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said in a statement.

"The in-principle agreement will still need to be put to members but in the meantime it will be business as usual at the Port of Melbourne," he said.

The union was asking for a pay rise of 15 per cent over three years, improved conditions and an increase in superannuation.


Greenies don't like being watched

Greens leader Bob Brown has accused Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson of turning Australia into a police state, after reports he pushed for increased surveillance of environmental activists.

A report in Fairfax newspapers details documents, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, that show Mr Ferguson requested additional monitoring of anti-coal mining groups and other environmental groups.

Senator Brown claims coal and fossil fuel companies pressured Mr Ferguson into having the federal police spy on environment groups who protest against energy companies.

Senator Brown says tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money is being spent having private contractors monitor activists.

"That paying of private corporations to spy on community groups is an abuse of taxpayers' money," he said. "Martin Ferguson should never have been allowed to promote that and it should be stopped. "The Attorney-General, if not the Prime Minister, should see that it stops immediately."

A spokeswoman for Mr Ferguson says governments are concerned with maintaining energy security. She says this includes maintaining the rule of law and energy supply, where issues-motivated groups seek to engage in unlawful activity.


Man to be released after decade without trial

His imprisonment may have been reasonable but doing so without a trial to test the allegations is most certainly not

A mentally impaired West Australian man who spent 10 years behind bars without ever standing trial will be released from prison shortly.

Marlon Noble has spent the past decade in a WA prison on child sex assault charges despite having never faced trial because he was deemed intellectually disabled.

It is alleged he sexually assaulted two children in the state's Gascoyne region in 2001.

Last November the Mental Health Review Board recommended he be released under strict conditions and the State Government has agreed.

Greens spokeswoman for Disabilities Alison Xamon says those conditions are too harsh. "[The conditions] really stop his ability to be able to walk around Geraldton, which is his home town," she said.

Ms Xamon says advocates for Mr Noble will continue to pressure the Government to reduce or abolish the restrictions imposed on him. "I think people need to be aware that the struggle to free Marlon Nobel is far from over," she said. "We're really relieved that he is finally going to be out of prison, but the next step is to be to ensure that the conditions attached to his release are lessened and finally removed."


CO2 shortage may flatten soft drink supplies

Perhaps they should attach a pipe to Al Gore. He seems to have a huge supply of the stuff

The temporary closure of two key sources of carbon dioxide gas, including Orica's controversial explosives plant near Newcastle, is causing supply shortages of the essential ingredient that makes soft drinks bubble.

The major supermarkets say supply disruptions have been minimal so far, but there could be shortages of soft drink if carbon dioxide production does not return to normal soon.

Orica's Kooragang Island explosives plant, which produces ammonia, makes carbon dioxide as a by-product. The plant has been closed since August following an accident and is only now in the process of slowly being brought back online.

Gas supplier BOC runs a carbon dioxide production facility at Kooragang Island which remains out of action until the explosives plant resumes feeding it raw gas for processing. BOC says it is sourcing alternative supplies from Queensland and Victoria to maintain supply in New South Wales. "BOC is currently maintaining normal CO2 supply in other Australian states," the company said in a statement.

Another major source of CO2, Origin and AWE's Lang Lang processing plant in Victoria, is closed for upgrades for about four months.

The production disruptions are starting to hurt supply to Australia's major soft-drink makers. Schweppes says it has experienced a shortage of CO2 at its largest east coast facilities over the past two months.

"As a consequence of this shortage, we have not been able to produce the volume of soft drinks that we normally would be producing at this time of the year, particularly at our factory in Victoria," the company said in a statement. "This has resulted in product shortages, largely in Victoria. We have put several workarounds in place to minimise the impact to customers."

Schweppes's production is also being cut by a lockout of about 150 staff at a factory in Victoria.

A Coles spokesman says the supermarket giant has seen an impact on the availability of some Schweppes products, but has so far still been able to cover that with supplies from other providers.

A Woolworths spokeswoman says the company is watching the situation closely. "We've not yet experienced notable supply shortages of carbonated products. Having said that, we would be concerned about supply if the CO2 shortage was not rectified very soon," the company said.

Schweppes says its carbon dioxide supplier has advised it will be increasing supplies from the end of next week, allowing full soft drink production to resume.

But Orica says the restart of Kooragang Island is a complex process and there is no firm timeline for the resumption of full production.


7 January, 2012

Political correctness kills a black kid

Authorities could not intervene in neglectful childcare arrangements for "cultural reasons"

The Department of Child Protection has admitted to not intervening on behalf of an eight-year-old girl, who has since died in the desert under questionable circumstances, despite knowing she was living with a convicted child snatcher.

The girl, whose name and photograph has been suppressed for cultural reasons, died from severe dehydration on Tuesday after she was found more than 12 kilometres from the Tjirrkali Aboriginal Community, 180 kilometres north-west of Warburton.

She was in the company of Augustine Winter Miller, 38, who was the partner of the girl's carer Tania Little, who was also no relation to the girl.

Ms Little made headlines when she admitted to stealing a three-day-old baby from Perth's King Edward Memorial Hospital in 2007 and was given a suspended sentence by the Kalgoorlie District Court the following year.

The department said it had paid Ms Little to care for the girl through its family crisis program since 2010. But it said it was not culturally appropriate to intervene in the girl's care because it was common practice with Aboriginal children to leave living arrangements up to the extended family.

But Goldfields community leader Daisy Ward said the little girl was abandoned to two people who were not related to her or from her country. This was despite the girl having family, including both parents, a brother and aunties and uncles on both sides, who lived in the alcohol-free and traditional community of Jameson, Ms Ward said.

Ms Ward said that the girl should have gone back to her family instead of strangers. "I feel sick thinking about it. The duty of care goes back to the parents," Ms Ward said. "The carer that was looking after her should not have let her go [hunting]. There was a big responsibility [over her care].

"Only family should have had her. They should have had her in the first place, when she was little. It still goes back to parenting and the parents did wrong."

It is not known whether the girl's family were even notified that she had gone to live with a stranger since the community is not speaking to media.

The girl's mother Ann-Marie Lane had given up custody of her daughter and a son, when they were young, because she was not coping. The older boy went to live with his father in Jameson and her then two-year-old daughter went to live with a grandmother, Nola Grant. Ms Grant eventually died from kidney failure when the girl was aged about six.

The girl then went to live with Ms Little but details are sketchy about what arrangement was made between the grandmother and Ms Little over the care of the little girl before Ms Grant died.

It appeared that Ms Little had helped the older woman care for the girl when Ms Grant became increasingly unwell. Ms Little then took over custody and sought financial assistance for her new ward from the department in May 2010.

The department provided payments to Ms Little through Centrelink for more than a year but did not question the appropriateness of the convicted child snatcher to be her carer or seek out the girl's actual family.

"The department is unable to comment on the specifics of individual cases for reasons of family privacy," it said in a written statement. "...The department responds to notifications of concern regarding the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. Where necessary, the department will make alternative arrangements for children whose parents are not able to care for them. "However, if the extended family makes arrangements to ensure the safety and wellbeing of a child, the department will not need to intervene.

"These sorts of arrangements made by extended family are culturally appropriate and not uncommon in Aboriginal communities."

It said the type of financial assistance it provided was to pay for food, utilities and any undertaking of urgent travel, as well as provide bereavement assistance where applicable.

The department has denied any knowledge of the girl having gone to live in the Tjirrkali Aboriginal Community, 180 kilometres north-west of Warburton, where Mr Miller resided.

Mr Miller was known to police because he was a convicted child sex offender after forming a relationship with 14-year-old girl who he said had been promised to him as a wife. Mr Miller is not considered a traditional man except that he has gone through traditional men's business as an adult.

Since April last year the Laverton man and Ms Little formed a relationship and she joined Mr Miller in the Tjirrkali Aboriginal Community, where he hunted and operated as a bush mechanic.

It was his skills as a mechanic and his knowledge of bush survival that have caused the Warburton community to question how he and the little girl came to be lost in the desert for four days.

The girl died despite valiant efforts of police and a Warburton nurse to try and resuscitate her when she was found unconscious at 2pm on Tuesday.

The pair had been on a hunting trip since Saturday and were found halfway between their abandoned two-wheel drive car, which was 25 kilometres into the remote desert, and the community.

The girl's death is still being investigated by police for the state coroner and is being treated as suspicious as a precautionary measure.

In the meantime the Warburton community is baying for Mr Miller's blood in the way of pay back, which under tribal law allows the men to spear him for failing to ensure the girl's safety.

It is understood that the mother, Ms Lane, has flown to Warburton to collect the body, which is to be laid to rest in Jameson.

Mr Miller is meant to reside in Kalgoorlie until his next court hearing for firearm charges. He was released from custody by the Magistrates Court on the condition that he was to report to local police every day from Monday to Friday.


Report torpedoes Collins sub fleet

A NEW report reveals problems with maintaining the Collins-class submarine fleet, Catherine Hockley reports.

When the first of Australia's Collins-class submarines was launched in August 1993, it was unfinished and not ready for operational deployment until seven years later. The program to build the six submarines, based at ASC's Adelaide ship building yard, was beset with troubles from the start.

The sea trials of the fleet detected a range of problems with the vessels, delaying their construction and deployment. The Collins-class fleet won an unenviable notoriety.

After deployment, the next vexed issue for the fleet was maintenance, made all the more critical because of the original problems. Unfortunately that too has become mired in controversy, with criticisms of delay and inefficiency - leading to the subs being frequently in dry dock.

The Collins-class submarines remain at the top of the Defence Department's projects of concern list.

This week Defence Minister Stephen Smith released the latest insight into the troubled subs, part one of an investigation by UK submarine expert John Coles which explores the current program to sustain the subs - and concludes that fundamental reform is required to keep the fleet functioning and afloat.

"It points to very serious flaws over a long period of time and draws attention to the need for fundamental reform in the way in which the maintenance and sustainment of the Collins-class is effected," Mr Smith said.

The reports presents a damning picture of a complex, inefficient and ultimately flawed $440 million annual maintenance and sustainment program - predicting "it will be just a matter of time before the program grinds to a halt or the risk of a serious incident reaches unacceptable levels".

The report highlights poor relationships between the main players, the Federal Government's Defence Materiel Organisation, the government-owned enterprise ASC, which built the subs and now has the contract to maintain them in South Australia and Western Australia, and the Royal Australian Navy.

As well, the availability of the submarines for operational use is a major concern. "Despite increases in funding for sustainment, and strenuous efforts on the part of the various authorities and agencies involved, the level of submarine availability continues to fall," the report says.

"The length of dockings is increasing and submarines frequently have to return to harbour with problems. Loss of availability had also been caused by lack of crews, and the level of crew availability remains critical to the support of operations."

The report is critical of ASC, particularly of the Adelaide arm and its key sustainment work for the full cycle dockings of the submarines.

"The Adelaide operation, originally created to build the submarines, has thus had to transfer its skills from acquisition to sustainment, and the evidence suggests that this has not been wholly successful and that sustainment is still being treated as a poor relation compared to the generally higher-profile acquisition work," the report says.

"Full cycle dockings are three-year jobs, which is a long time even by modern nuclear submarine standards. "It was not evident to us that there was any incentive to complete FCDs more quickly. Relationships are mainly difficult and fractious, though there are also some good spots at the lower levels."

Although the panel behind the review has yet to provide its final recommendations, the report suggests that all maintenance of the submarines could be centralised in WA. Currently the work is split between the two states, with SA's 850 employees performing deeper-level major maintenance and WA doing routine upkeep. "Concentrating all sustainment activity in WA would be likely to have clear benefits," the report says.

SA Defence Teaming Centre chief executive Chris Burns said yesterday "any review will always find fault and they are important for continuous improvement".

He called for the Federal Government to commit to its mooted submarine replacement program. The Government has already said it wants to build up to 12 new submarines to replace the ageing Collins-class, to be assembled in SA at the new Techport facility.

"If we don't want to repeat the problems with the Collins, the Government needs to be investing dollars in starting the design of the future submarine. Otherwise we will lose the skills and industry capability," he said.

Former submariner and the director of submarine training agency, Acoustic Force, Rex Patrick said the report largely described problems that were already known. He called on the Government to consider cutting its losses with the Collins-class, and progressively phasing them out and moving to off-the-shelf replacements to "restore the capability".

ASC managing director Steve Ludlam said yesterday he welcomed the report. "The review confirms that in some areas we are performing well, and in other areas there is room for improvement," he said.


Interesting excerpt from another article:

The Collins-class engine was not fully tested before going to sea and there was no requirement for tank testing. There were later problems with the French-designed engines - the foreign supplier could not address these and its Australian partner did not have the skills to do so either.


Architects defend the majesty of unwanted '50s fibros

Fibro is asbestos cement sheeting, once very widely used in building construction but now banned because of its asbestos content, even though no harm from using the product has ever been shown

Just as the suburban quarter-acre block is becoming a thing of the past, so too it seems is the house that used to sit on it. Across Sydney, homes from the 1950s and '60s are being bulldozed at such a rate that architects and heritage experts worry these "fibro majestics" and other examples of the era will disappear, and so are pushing for them to be saved.

Bill Randolph, the director of the City Futures research centre at the University of NSW, who has studied this "knock down, rebuild" phenomenon, said it occurred mostly to houses from between the '40s and '60s, and was widespread in most of the 29 areas in Sydney he studied.

The reason was generational, he said. Younger families wanted larger houses closer to the city and it was cheaper to knock down existing ones than renovate them. "The issue is spread right across the middle suburbs and it's in the high-end market as well as the rest," Professor Randolph said. "In Ku-ring-gai they are knocking them down as quickly as in Bankstown."

A spokeswoman for the state government's Heritage Branch said architects had lobbied for the preservation of these mid-century dwellings, and over the next two years it would begin identifying those worth keeping.

Professor Randolph said many of these houses were owner-built and of poor quality, but the good ones should be saved. "Even the 'fibro majestic', there's some pretty interesting fibro houses about and that's a real part of our city's history," he said. "As long as the good stuff is kept and the not-so-good stuff is replaced … that's the way to go."

Caroline Butler-Bowdon, an assistant director at the Historic Houses Trust, which held a seminar on '50s and '60s houses in October, said they were more in need of protection than others.

"It's like the argument has been won in favour of terrace houses," she said. "They don't get demolished, do they? "There is an appreciation for our Federation architecture and Arts and Crafts, but really some of the houses most at risk are those from the '50s and '60s."

She said they were unpopular as they were small by today's "bloated" standards. But the appeal lay in the flexibility, open-plan design, easy flow between rooms and connection with the outside through large windows.

In the '50s, these houses were mostly made of fibro and timber; by the mid-'60s it was usually cream- or red-brick veneer, often with double and triple-fronts with hipped tiled roofs, she said.


Demand for prestige wine brands outstrips supply

AMID a continuing wine glut the Foster's wine spin-off, Treasury Wine Estates, has the opposite problem: demand is outstripping supply for some of its premium brands, and not just Penfolds.

"We are way short of the global demand today, and what we've got to do is to balance the growth of something like Penfolds with some of the other brands we've got," the company's chief executive, David Dearie, told Weekend Business. "We're also short this year on brands such as Pepperjack and Wynns from Coonawarra.

"There's a lot of fantastic wines in our portfolio which are very highly sought after right now." The biggest shortage remains at the top of its brand tree: Penfolds. Australian customers will increasingly have to share supply with a growing customer base, and not just in Asia.

The release in November of Treasury Wine Estates' most expensive wine, the $1000 Penfolds Bin 620, has been doing surprisingly well in London, where it sells for around £750 a bottle.

However, it puts things in perspective when Mr Dearie mentions that a Chinese buyer showed up at Penfolds' cellar door in South Australia to buy 11 bottles of Bin 620 and have another case sent to his home in China.

The main downside for Treasury Wine Estates is that Bin 620 will not produce much more than bragging rights due to the small volumes that help make it such a desirable commodity. It is understood production was limited to a few hundred cases.

"It's very small quantities, but it does show that when you have a product from a brand with a reputation like Penfolds, and a product which is rare in its availability, then there is a lot of demand there," Mr Dearie said.

While Asia is a potential game changer for the industry, it is not the only market that could be driving demand for wineries like Treasury Wine Estates.

"I read some forecasts the other day which said the wine consumption in China will double in the next five years, at the same time I also read that the forecast is the wine consumption in the US will double in the next 10 years," Mr Dearie said.

"If both of those predictions were to come true there would be a mass global shortage of wine. I think we've got to be very excited about Asia and the opportunity that it poses, but there are very big growth opportunities … around the world."

The US market is a long way from giving the company this sort of headache. Following Treasury Wine Estates' October update, brokers such as Goldman Sachs downgraded forecasts based on its struggle to "stabilise commercial brand volumes" in the US and Europe.


6 January, 2012

Amazing Leftist stupidity over Australia's most solemn day of commemoration

Leftists just don't get it. They are emotionally stunted

ANZAC Day, arguably the most sacred day on the Australian calendar, is in danger of being "branded" by the Federal Government.

War veterans say the 2015 centenary of the Australian landing on Gallipoli will speak for itself, without the need for hype, slogans or motifs, The Daily Telegraph reported. But federal bureaucrats have spent $100,000 on focus groups to determine how to "brand" the big day.

A market research company was paid $103,275 to conduct focus groups nationwide, including in Melbourne, last year.

Former premier Jeff Kennett said it was "an abject waste of money". It should be clear to the Government what the day means, and the idea of "branding" it was ridiculous, he said. "Anzac Day has come to mean so much that increasing numbers of young people are participating in dawn services and other commemorative services around Anzac Day," he said.

"It is a political intervention which should be snuffed out immediately, not just because it's a waste of money but because Anzac Day ... (is) profoundly celebrated and commemorated."

World War II veteran and ex-PoW Frank Holland-Stabback, who will march for the last time this year, agreed, saying Anzac Day allowed him to show his pride in serving his country. "I think Anzac Day is known well enough as it is."

Victorian RSL boss David McLachlan said he did not want to comment until he had seen the plans.

A Department of Veterans' Affairs spokeswoman said the idea for "a national brand or motif" emerged from an Anzac Centenary Advisory Board meeting on October 14. It was "not unusual for the Australian Government to undertake focus testing for a project of this scale and importance", she said.

The Government was tendering for a design, and she said concepts were "focus tested by a market research company" with defence force members and people from various age groups. They were asked how well each motif gained their attention and which they considered would best represent the Anzac centenary. "This was important to determine resonance with the Australian community," she said.

Ray Brown, from the Injured Service Persons Association (Peacetime), said the Government's approach was inappropriate, and Anzacs who fought at Gallipoli would have been stunned.


Absurd and presumptuous: Vegemite changes its name to 'Australia'

I like Vegemite as much as anyone but this is another PR goof.

VEGEMITE is taking its national iconic status to a whole new level - it's changing its name to "Australia".

In the lead-up to Australia Day and to celebrate the Aussie spread’s 89th year, Vegemite will rebrand its jars to become simply “Australia”, featuring a map of Australia in the place of the famous Vegemite red diamond shaped logo.

“Changing Vegemite’s name to Australia for a limited time in the lead up to Australia Day is our way of showing some contemporary Australian pride,” said Jenny Nolch, Vegemite marketing director.

But the reaction from the Australian public to Kraft’s latest marketing campaign is yet to be seen.

The last time Kraft tried to rebrand a Vegemite product, a cheesier version of the spread which they called "iSnack 2.0", it lasted only five days on the shelves before it was met with huge public backlash for daring to play with the national brand.

As part of Vegemite’s name change for Australia Day, Vegemite is also featuring ten everyday Aussies front on its jars in the lead up to January 26, to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of ordinary Australians.


Greenie fanaticism destroys crops

THE State Government has taken aim at a council's "stupid rule" banning hail nets after tonnes of farmers' fruit were destroyed in the Christmas Day storms.

Minister for agriculture and food security Peter Walsh slammed Yarra Ranges Council's "silly" rule stopping farmers putting hail nets over all of their crops, allowing more damage to be done in the Christmas Day hailstorms.

"It is wrong that Yarra Ranges Council thinks it more important to give people in passing cars an unblemished green vista than to protect farmers crops from destruction," he said. "What makes it more disappointing is that the damage could have been minimized except for stupid Yarra Ranges Council policies restricting use of protective hail nets."

"For many growers, hail netting provides the best form of protection against hail, yet council policy limits orchardists in green wedge zones to covering a maximum of only 60 per cent of their trees in hail nets, meaning almost half their orchard is left exposed to storms."

Yarra Ranges Mayor Graham Warren said the council was the first to develop a green wedge management plan focusing on "sustainable farming, a healthy biodiversity and valued landscapes".

He said a review of the current scheme was planned. "Council supports the use of hail netting by businesses in the Yarra Valley to protect their crops. All applications for hail netting are considered on their merits, including the business needs of applicants," he said.


Millions wasted on Aboriginal job projects

So what else is new?

A LANDMARK report commissioned by the state government has found that millions of dollars have been wasted on failed programs to help Aboriginal people find jobs and business opportunities.

The report by the Allen Consulting Group - the first independent review of NSW government-funded Aboriginal employment programs introduced since 1989 - said the programs were developed in an "opportunistic and unco-ordinated" way and many have failed to achieve results, despite significant funding.

The Allen Consulting report found that at least $17 million has been spent on failed programs to help Aboriginal people.

It said there was no strategy or framework linking programs to the needs of Aboriginal people and there had been little monitoring or evaluation of money spent and outcomes.

The NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Victor Dominello, said many of the 14 programs evaluated had been developed in an ad hoc way and appeared to have continued unchecked for more than 10 years.

The report recommends monitoring and evaluation of all programs and the introduction of a master plan to reduce duplication of services and co-ordinate long-term strategies linking early childhood, school and career opportunities.

A report by the federal Department of Finance released last year found that despite efforts by successive Commonwealth, state and territory governments, progress against Aboriginal disadvantage had been "mixed at best".

The federal government spends $3.5 billion a year on indigenous programs but the report found this "major investment, maintained over many years, has yielded dismally poor returns".

Before the report was commissioned, Mr Dominello was shocked to learn that Wilcannia, a community of about 600 people, had 57 programs for a range of services including employment, education and health, with little evidence of results for Aboriginal people.

The Allen report contains a litany of similar failures, including a one-off $200,000 grant for the Job Compacts program which did not generate or identify any job opportunities. The grant was spent on cultural awareness training for stakeholders.

"This makes me irate when a lot of money is spent without any evaluation of the program to see if it is working," Mr Dominello said. "In the real world - if you are paying that kind of money you would expect some outcomes and expect the program to be monitored."

Mr Dominello said he would refer the Allen report's recommendations to the high-powered Ministerial Taskforce on Aboriginal Affairs, which includes the ministers for health, education, justice and Treasury, along with academics and Aboriginal employment experts.

The report says programs need to focus more "on the complete pipeline" from early childhood through to school and post-secondary education to sustained employment and career opportunities.

"Rather than just creating an identified position or undertaking a one-off or short-term business intervention, programs need to provide sustained levels of support," it said. Mr Dominello said he agreed with the recommendation and the need for an overarching master plan was critical.

"We also want to have more engagement with the private and non-government sector," he said. "There has not been enough government leadership on this in the past."

Mr Dominello said the government had already started work on trying to rectify problems identified in the Allen report through the ministerial taskforce and its engagement with Aboriginal leaders and communities.


5 January, 2012

Australia has the coldest autumn since at least 1950

But in its usual Warmist way the BOM is downplaying it

AUSTRALIA did its best for global cooling in 2011 but it had nothing to do with the federal government's carbon tax.

Rather, back-to-back La Nina weather systems that caused widespread flooding and ended the 10-year drought also pushed temperatures below the 30-year average for the first time since 2001, resulting in the coldest autumn since at least 1950.

As with the economy and this year's start to summer, last year's weather was a two-speed affair.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology's annual climate statement for 2011, cooler temperatures in Sydney, the sub-tropics and tropics offset above-average conditions in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

And for those looking to the figures to disprove climate change, the Bureau of Meteorology says Australia was the only continent to record cooling and the nation's 10-year temperature average trend was still up.

"In 2011, the La Nina and heavy rainfall acted like an evaporative cooler for Australia," said bureau climate change spokesman David Jones. "The year 2010 was relatively cool in recent historical context and 2011 was cooler again." [But the trend is still up? Balderdash!]

Mr Jones said there was no evidence to link the strong La Nina weather systems with changing global temperatures. "We have had this regular cycle of La Nina and El Nino," he said. "The strongest El Nino on record was in 1997 and we have seen one of the strongest La Ninas on record in 2010-11." [I wonder why? Would the sun have anything to do with it?]

Mr Jones said the climate science was not very clear on what would happen with El Nino and La Nina patterns, particularly at this early stage of global warming. "We have only seen one degree of warming so far but we will see substantially more as we move through the century [He's a prophet!], but it is probably too early to draw any concrete relationship between hotter temperatures and La Nina," he said.

"One simple thing we can say is we know La Nina are historically cooler for Australia but there is a big difference between variability and climate change."

The BOM climate statement said Australia's mean rainfall total for last year was 699mm, which was 234mm above the long-term average of 465mm, making it the third-wettest year since comparable records began in 1900.

The Australian area averaged mean temperature was 0.14C below the 1961-1990 average of 21.81C. Last year, maximum temperatures averaged 0.25C below normal across the country, while minimum temperatures averaged 0.03C below normal.

"Despite the slightly cooler conditions, the country's 10-year average continues to demonstrate the rising trend in temperatures, with 2002-2011 likely to rank in the top two warmest 10-year periods on record for Australia, at 0.52C above the long-term average," the bureau said.

"If you are interested in determining whether the planet is warming, you look at the global temperature," Mr Jones said. "Australia follows the global trend closely, but it can vary."


To deter the boats, Australia must rule out permanent resettlement

THERE can be no solution to the problem of illegal immigrants/boatpeople -- neither to the humanitarian tragedy of people drowning trying to get here or the policy crisis of the government losing control of its borders and its immigration system -- until all prospect of permanent resettlement in Australia is removed for people who arrive illegally by boat.

To do this would not contradict the Refugee Convention, which people write about but never read. The only requirement in the convention is that people fleeing persecution not be sent back to the countries they are fleeing from.


Abbott displays once again as a down to earth bloke

WHEN not jockeying to become Prime Minister, it appears that Tony Abbott feels at home behind the wheel of a big rig. The leader of the Federal Opposition was driving a truck from Gatton to Brisbane, having visited the regional centre today to check on the community's progress from last year's flood disaster.

Wednesday was the first day that Mr Abbott could legally drive heavy vehicles, having recently upgraded to a "heavy combination" license. He had no trouble easing the 42.5 tonne, 540 horsepower truck out of a local truck yard and on the road to Brisbane.

Earlier, he said there was "still work to be done" to complete the flood clean up, during a visit to Grantham.

Making his 3rd visit to the small town, which was devastated by the raging waters nearly a year ago, the Federal leader of the opposition spent time listening to the harrowing stories of local residents.

"There are hundreds of human stories that came out of last years floods. Stories of heroism, stories if tragedy, but above all else, deeply human stories," he said. "It is the responsibility of local and national leaders not to forget what happened here and to remember that while the floods have gone, the work continues."

During a visit to a farm which is still recovering from the damage caused by last summers flood, Mr Abbott said the emotional scares from the tragedy had not yet healed. "There is a lot of physical rebuilding still to be done and there's a lot of mental rebuilding still to be done. Some of that mental rebuilding will take a lifetime," he said.

"And it's important that we do, at all levels of government, everything we humanly can to allow the people of this district to be whole again."


No "Teach for America" equivalent allowed in Queensland

They love their useless 4-year degrees. I was a successful High School teacher with ZERO teaching qualifications

QUEENSLAND has rejected a key federal education initiative aimed at stemming teacher shortages in mathematics and science.

The Department of Education and Training has confirmed no Teach Next teachers, who are trained for about eight weeks before they hit the classroom, will be employed in state schools next year.

The Gillard Government said in last year's Budget speech it would spend $18 million over four years on the program, which is similar to the Teach for Australia scheme knocked back by the Bligh Government.

Under Teach Next, "highly qualified professionals" take an intensive training course of about eight weeks before entering the classroom. They then complete the rest of their teaching qualification over the next two years while working and receiving mentoring.

DET executive director Tom Barlow said while the department had explored options for implementing Teach Next, there were legislative barriers relating to the registration of teachers restricting participation. "In order to satisfy teaching requirements in Queensland, graduates complete an accredited four-year undergraduate qualification, or a one-year post-graduate qualification," he said.

"The department is exploring innovative strategies to attract high-calibre teachers for Queensland state schools through scholarship and incentive programs."


Former restaurant owner a victim of government

And the business, which did not have flood insurance, is still adrift, a year after the State Government deliberately sank the barge at the height of the floods.

Owner David Moore needs $4.5 million to get the award-winning restaurant fixed up and running again. He owes creditors about $1 million. And the final straw was a massive bill from the tax office.

Mr Moore even considered "jumping off a bridge" in March when the initial drama faded and cold reality set in. "It's been an incredibly hard eight or nine months," he said. "Just getting your life back together. "And I'm still accountable for all the bills, the bank loans.

"A lot of people have been heavily supportive of us. "A lot of people have also been suffering, wanting to be compensated as much as possible."

Mr Moore in April filed a claim against the State Government, seeking compensation under the Disaster Management Act.

"Anna Bligh had been on TV during the floods saying, 'We've just sunk the Drift Restaurant'," Mr Moore said. "I met with the Premier's office a couple of weeks after the floods and said, 'You sank my restaurant, what are you going to do about it?'

"But it wasn't until November that the Government acknowledged the claim. The Act requires claims to be settled within 60 days. It is still unresolved." Mr Moore added: "I asked them why the delay and they said no one had ever made a claim under the Disaster Management Act before. "Welcome to dealing with the Government."

Mr Moore said it was only after Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale intervened that the Australian Taxation Office dropped a threat to take legal action against him to recover $170,000 in unpaid taxes. "He's the mayor of a different city but he called me and asked if there was anything he could do to help me," he said.

Mr Moore said that by contrast, Lord Mayor Graeme Quirk hadn't had time to speak to him after they both addressed a function for flood volunteers in March. Cr Quirk "said he was in a rush", Mr Moore said. "He's my own bloody Lord Mayor."

Police declared Drift a disaster zone on January 11, ordering salvage workers to leave the site. That meant firemen struggling to cut it loose from the riverbank so it could float, as it was designed to do, had to stop work. Mr Moore said the firemen's underwater cutting equipment had failed to start because batteries were flat.

He said if earlier warnings had been given about the likely impact of the floods he could have mobilised staff to remove furniture and food from the restaurant and prevented millions of dollars worth of damage.


4 January, 2012

More "asylum" boats likely to head for Australia after Indonesian visa change

They're putting the heat on Australia to fix its own problems

The head of immigration with Indonesia's Law and Human Rights Ministry concedes that plans to ease visa rules for three major source countries for asylum seekers heading to Australia could spark more people-smuggling activity.

Indonesia is set to relax visa restrictions on citizens from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh within months, and similar changes for Pakistan and Afghanistan are now awaiting final approval.

The changes come despite the four countries being among 13 nations that for a long time have been on Indonesia's immigration "red list", a reference to concerns that citizens from those countries could pose a security risk. Both the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the Foreign Ministry have confirmed the visa rules are set to be eased for the four countries.

The director-general of immigration with the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Bambang Irawan, has also conceded that the new policy could trigger a fresh wave of asylum-seeker traffic to Australia from Indonesia.

Indonesia is the chief transit point for asylum seekers heading to Australia, while Afghanistan and Pakistan are regarded as major source countries.

"There's the potential for the new policy to lure more boat people heading to Australia," Irawan said in an interview published in the Jakarta Post newspaper on Tuesday. "We will see what the progress is in the future and evaluate."

The visa applications would be processed in Indonesian embassies in the countries of origin. "Based on our data, they head to Australia. To get there they have to pass our country," Irawan said.

However, he maintained that security factors would be taken into account, insisting also that Indonesia remained committed to a regional approach to combating people smuggling and the flow of asylum seekers.

"This is a regional issue that will need co-operation between the transit and destination countries eyed by the people smugglers," he said. Irawan said Indonesia already had "sufficient regulations" to combat people smuggling.

The move to relax the visa policy follows the sinking last month of an Australian-bound vessel off the coast of East Java, which resulted in the deaths of as many as 200 asylum seekers.

Authorities in Indonesia have detained four soldiers for their alleged involvement in the doomed people-smuggling venture, which is believed to have netted the syndicate responsible more than $A1 million.

Only 47 asylum seekers survived when the 25-metre vessel, carrying about 250 people, sank in rough seas 40 nautical miles off the coast. It had a safe capacity of 100. Most of those aboard the boat were from Afghanistan and Iran, but there were also a number of asylum seekers from Pakistan.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa dismissed concerns that the relaxed rules could pose an increased security risk, saying the new policy was aimed at increasing tourism and business links between Indonesia and the four countries. "It's not right for us to stereotype as if a whole country, including children, is dubbed as a terrorist nation," Dr Natalegawa said. "I'm not going to begin stereotyping my brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan as if they are all terrorists." he said.


A criminal "child protection" bureaucracy in Victoria

THEY are Victoria's forgotten children - the 93 infants, toddlers and teens who died when State Government carers closed their cases. Aged as young as two, they make up the majority of tragedies referred to the child protection watchdog.

As the State Government inquiry into child protection winds down, there are calls to strip the Department of Human Services of its protection responsibilities because "they're getting it wrong".

A Herald Sun investigation into the state's worst child protection failures reveals how 93 kids died soon after DHS workers washed their hands of their plight. In one case, an infant died from neglect, surrounded by dirty nappies, cigarette butts and chewed chicken bones.

In another, a child died from a prescription drug overdose after the DHS closed his case because case workers accepted assurances from his drug-addled parents they were being treated.

One third of the child protection death cases analysed by the Victorian Child Death Review Committee between 1996 and 2009 involved children who had died within three months of their file being closed. In 2010, 12 died within a year of their case being shut down. The children died through accident, illness or neglect.

The child protection system is to have a major overhaul this year after a major State Government inquiry that is ongoing.

In one case flagged by the Ombudsman in a recent report, a child died surrounded by filth - cigarette butts, chicken bones and dirty nappies - within two months of birth. The family was well-known to DHS, according to the Ombudsman. He criticised the generally premature closing of cases and questioned the accuracy of some child protection files.

One in five child protection clients who died were on protection orders - or formally under DHS watch - when they died.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief Joe Tucci said DHS failed to make kids' welfare a priority and called for a child protection department.


Abbott again slams 'rip-off' NBN project

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has again criticised the Government's $36 billion national broadband network (NBN) project as a waste of money, after it was revealed only 4000 customers had signed up to the service so far.

The connection figures, released this week by the Government-owned company set up to deliver the network, are well down on NBN Co's earlier projection of 35,000 connections in 2011.

That projection also contrasts with its roll-out numbers, with 18,200 homes and businesses lying along the fibre optic cable infrastructure laid down so far at a cost of $1 billion.

"The billion dollars that they have spent so far on the rollout works out at $250,000 per connection," Mr Abbott told Fairfax Radio yesterday. "So by any means this is a monumental rip-off."

But NBN Co said on Monday it was pleased with the 4000 connections achieved by the end of 2011 and expects numbers to ramp up in 2012 as more retail service providers begin offering broadband plans and Australians began migrating to the network from existing services.

It's also waiting on an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission green light for its deal with the country's biggest telco Telstra, so it can access the company's underground infrastructure to lay more fibre.

Under the deal with the Government and NBN Co, Telstra will progressively decommission its copper-based network and allow NBN Co to access its pits, manholes and exchanges, and sell some infrastructure. In return, Telstra will receive $11 billion from the Government.

However, Mr Abbott questioned whether NBN Co could achieve the Government's goal to expand the network's coverage area to another 500,000 premises this year. "The rollout is massively behind schedule," he said.

Mr Abbott also said that by the federal election in 2013, which current polling shows the Opposition would win in a landslide, the network was likely to be "embryonic" at best and suggested a coalition government could pull the plug. "What we won't do is throw good money after bad when it comes to the NBN," he said.

NBN head of industry relations Jim Hassell has said the biggest challenge facing the company is rolling out the network fast enough to meet demand.

The NBN is expected to be completed by 2021, when all Australians should have access to fibre optic, fixed wireless or satellite high speed broadband services.


Gillard rebukes Hawke on unions

THE Prime Minister has dismissed a call by the Labor elder Bob Hawke to slash the power of unions within the ALP. Julia Gillard defended the factional and union influences that were responsible for the destruction of Kevin Rudd's leadership in 2010.

Mr Hawke, a former prime minister and boss of the ACTU, said in an interview with the Fairfax publication The Australian Financial Review that while his "first love" was the trade union movement, its influence over the Labor Party had grown to "suffocating" proportions.

But yesterday Ms Gillard said the unions were the champions of "working Australians": "I believe our great trade union movement is important to Australian society and to representing the needs of working people," she said. "It was the trade union movement, shoulder to shoulder with the Labor Party, that fought back and got rid of Work Choices."

Responding to Mr Hawke's advice to the ALP to recognise the perceived negative association with the unions, Ms Gillard said the matter had been adequately addressed at the party's national conference last month.

She tried to soften the public rebuke to Mr Hawke, once the nation's most popular leader, saying he was an important part of the ALP's history. "Bob Hawke is, of course, a living legend," she said. "Bob is right to say that the Labor Party needs to keep modernising."

His criticism of undue union influence within the ALP mirrored the view of another former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who savaged the power of the unions and factions in a speech to the national conference.

Mr Rudd said the party had failed to take any significant steps to rein in the power of factions and union bosses. "While some claim we have moved forward on party reform, the truth is we have barely moved at all," Mr Rudd said. "The stark alternative remains: either more power to the factional powerbrokers or more power to the 35,000 members of the Australian Labor Party."

An internal review by the former premiers Steve Bracks and Bob Carr and Senator John Faulkner recommended a guaranteed say for unions and Labor supporters in party preselections and aired dire warnings that the party faced a membership crisis.

Senator Faulkner has repeatedly warned that the ALP risks a wipeout of its membership - as "a small party getting smaller, [and] an old party getting older".

Ms Gillard welcomed the review but resisted the suggestion that the unions be given a say in policy and parliamentary decisions. "As Labor leader I will insist on the right to freely choose the executive of the federal parliamentary Labor Party," she said at the time of the review's release. "I have chosen my team of ministers and parliamentary secretaries and I will continue to do so."

Mr Hawke also addressed the leadership question that continues to dog Ms Gillard, saying he believed she was the best person for the job. "I don't think they should change leaders," he said. "There has been a lot of criticism of Julia, but you have got to give her credit for a lot of achievements and tenacity. "She has shown a lot of courage and determination, particularly on the carbon tax and the mining tax. When those things are bedded down they may even become positives."

Ms Gillard has refused to address questions about the leadership this year, telling reporters on New Year's Day to "check the transcripts" of last year for her answer.

It is more than 20 years since Mr Hawke was prime minister of Australia but the "Silver Bodgie" has enjoyed a resurgence in the media, most recently in a renewed spat with the former prime minister Paul Keating.

The pair showed the passing of time had done nothing to ease the rancour in their relationship, with Mr Keating this week blaming Mr Hawke for the wage explosions of the 1970s.

Mr Keating said that Mr Hawke, as the ACTU national secretary, had "nearly destroyed the economy twice". The spat coincides with the release by the National Archives of the 1982 and 1983 cabinet documents.


3 January, 2012

Everything is caused by climate change

They give no reasoning for their claim below. It is just a reflex twitch. A hundred years ago they would have said: "It's the Jews" -- with equal lack of logic

SCIENTISTS have found the world's first hybrid sharks in Australian waters. Leading researchers in marine biology discovered 57 animals along a 2000 km stretch from Queensland to NSW.

The predators are a cross between the common blacktip shark and Australian blacktip shark, two related but genetically distinct species.

The scientists say interbreeding between the two shark species is a sign the animals are adapting to climate change. They also warn that hybridisation could make the sharks stronger.

Dr Jennifer Ovenden, of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, said: "Hybridization could enable the sharks to adapt to environmental change as the smaller Australian black tip currently favours tropical waters in the north while the larger common black tip is more abundant in sub-tropical and temperate waters along the south-eastern Australian coastline."

She added: "Wild hybrids are usually hard to find, so detecting hybrids and their offspring is extraordinary. To find 57 hybrids along 2000km of coastline is unprecedented."

Dr Jess Morgan, a researcher at the University of Queensland researcher, told The Australian that it was unusual for sharks to breed in this way. "Sharks physically mate, which is usually a good way to make sure you don't hybridize with the wrong species," she said.

Colin Simpfendorfer, of James Cook University's Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, said: "The results of this research show that we still have a lot to learn about these important ocean predators."


Aunty's leftish drift still needs to be corrected by its deeds

When minding grandchildren at the beach in shallow water, there is not much to do except listen to the radio. And so it came to pass that on Christmas Day, with earpiece attached, I switched on the ABC Radio National Artworks program.

There was a discussion about the latest inner-city fashion of yarnbombing, whereby a certain sect of radical feminists engage in adorning public places with graffiti of the knitted genre. Artworks' sympathetic coverage concluded with a certain Casey Jenkins telling the program how she recently travelled to Vatican City and attached her home-knitted "lesbian fling-up" to the Basilica. The ABC reporter and presenter appeared to approve of such action.

Apparently Jenkins is on a campaign to advocate the use of what she terms "the C word" and to proclaim the "loveliness of non-reproductive sex". Which is all well and good, provided that she was more catholic (in the universal sense of the word) in her targeting. Artworks' favourite yarnbomber took her campaign to the Vatican and the Pope. She did not protest at the Haj in Saudi Arabia or outside Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office in Tehran. Catholicism is an easy target. Islam is not. The program was so terribly twee. And so predictably Radio National.

On Christmas Day, Radio National also re-ran Julie Rigg's MovieTime review of The Iron Lady, which is directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Rigg described Margaret Thatcher, the subject of the film, as "a tyrant". Rigg also expressed her disgust that, during the Falklands War, a British submarine sank an Argentine ship, the Belgrano. But she expressed no concern about the British sailors who had died when the Argentine air force, controlled by the military dictators in Buenos Aires, sank Royal Navy ships.

When reviewing The Iron Lady on ABC 1's At the Movies earlier in December, Margaret Pomeranz also felt the need to declare that "most of us" thought that Thatcher's decision, when prime minister, to change Britain "wasn't a good idea at the time". David Stratton, the co-presenter of At the Movies, concurred. It was another example of an ABC program in which everyone agreed with everyone else, in a fashionable leftist sort of way.

The likes of Jenkins and Pomeranz and Stratton have a right to be heard. It's just the overwhelming voice of the public broadcaster is left-of-centre, or leftist, and so few right-of-centre, or conservative, voices are heard.

Maurice Newman, who was the best ABC chairman in recent memory, stepped down at the end of 2011 after the Gillard government declined to extend his term. When ABC chairman, Newman drew attention to what he described as a "group-think" within the public broadcaster. Not surprisingly, Newman's critique was criticised by ABC types, led by ABC's Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes. However, any sample of ABC programs will reveal an over-representation of left-of-centre views and a gross under-representation of conservative positions.

The ABC managing director, Mark Scott, is a distinct improvement on his predecessor. However, as one of Australia's highest paid public sector employees, who earns significantly more than the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, his performance should be critically assessed.

In October 2006, shortly after he took up his position, Scott addressed the Sydney Institute. While defending the public broadcaster, he did concede that there was "a sense that the organisation has issues with balance and fairness". Most importantly, Scott acknowledged that "there needs to be a plurality of opinion" on the ABC. In 2006, the ABC did not have one conservative presenter or executive producer on any of its key TV or radio programs - although many on the left held such positions. Five years later, nothing has changed.

In 2006 Scott called for "further diversity of voices" on the ABC. Recently the public broadcaster announced a range of new talent as presenters for its TV and radio programs in 2012. The list includes academic Waleed Aly, The Chaser's Julian Morrow, journalist Andrew West and comedian Josh Thomas. All are talented. Not one is a conservative.

There is no conspiracy here. It's just that in the ABC, as in universities, politically like appoints like. Mike Carlton, who is not a critic of the public broadcaster, last August depicted ABC functions as events "where almost everyone seems to be married to, living with or divorced from somebody else in the room".

Nor is it a case of the ABC being pro-Labor. In fact, as K.S. Inglis documents in his 2006 book Whose ABC?, the prime minister who was most critical of the ABC's lack of political balance was Labor's Bob Hawke - not the Coalition's John Howard. At issue was the public broadcaster's coverage of the first Gulf War.

Scott's view that the ABC should engage in "soft power", and represent Australia's international interests through broadcasting, has been sanctioned by the Gillard government. It awarded the Australia Network contract to the ABC in perpetuity without competitive tendering. The problem with the existing service is not merely that it is boring. It also reflects the ABC house culture of criticising both Labor and the Coalition from the left.

Regular ABC viewers/listeners know that the predominant position heard on the public broadcaster is to criticise Labor or the Coalition on human rights matters (asylum seekers, same sex marriage, anti-terrorism legislation), on foreign policy (the Australian-American alliance, Israel) and on economic reform (labour market deregulation).

The appointment of even one prominent conservative as a presenter of even one significant ABC program would not resolve this long-standing imbalance. But it might indicate that Scott's promise was about to be implemented, albeit half a decade after it was made.


Electricity cost shock for Victorians

VICTORIANS need to urgently educate themselves about the looming surge in electricity prices this year, or face bills so high many will struggle to pay them, the chief of an energy price comparison service says.

Power use surged yesterday, after temperatures in Melbourne hit 39.6 degrees at 6pm. Today the temperature is forecast to hit 35 degrees, after an overnight low of 24.

The spike in electricity use followed power prices in Victoria jumping on New Year's Day, by an average 10 per cent.

Much of this increase was on the charge to consumers for simply being connected to the grid - meaning users will now pay more regardless of whether they cut their power use or not.

And, according to Ben Freund, chief executive of price comparison service company GoSwitch, another jump of about 10 per cent is likely to follow on July 1, when the carbon tax begins.

The new tax, combined with mandatory renewable energy targets and chronic under-investment by power companies in infrastructure, will cause prices to rise further across Australia. "We are looking at the doubling of the cost of power in five years' time," Mr Freund said. "At that point people will start getting into serious hardship."

Victoria had the advantage of around 70 per cent of its homes being connected to natural gas, giving many consumers an alternative if power bills rose too steeply, Mr Freund said. "Consumers will be blase about it for a while, and then they'll get their bill for summer and be shocked," he predicted.

"Then they'll get their winter bill, and by that stage they will be paying a carbon tax and they will be really shocked."

Also likely to have an impact on future electricity price rises will be the introduction of smart meters to every home in Victoria, which will measure energy consumption every 30 minutes, rather than every three months.

The new meters will allow for time-of-use tariffs to be charged, allowing energy retailers to charge more for using electricity at times when everyone wants to use their power, and less at low-demand times.

Energy Minister Michael O'Brien has guaranteed this new way of charging will not happen until next year, and that those who wish to stay on fixed charges will be able to do so.

But Victorian Greens MP Greg Barber warned that anyone who had considered the $2.3 billion smart meter rollout a ripoff so far needed to be aware of what was coming.

"You can't put people on time-of-use pricing unless they've got instantaneous access to information about how much they'll be paying for the power they are using," he said.

To do so would be like "a pub that shuts off happy hour at 7pm without telling you, then hands you a bill for 800 bucks at the end of the night", he said.

A spokesman for Mr O'Brien said yesterday that the moratorium on time-of-use pricing would remain in place until next year.


Only 4,000 homes hooked up to white elephant

Figures from NBN Co show take-up of the National Broadband Network is behind schedule, with only 4,000 households connected to the high-speed network at the end of 2011. That figure is well behind an initial target set by the Government to have 35,000 households connected by June last year.

The Opposition's telecommunications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says it is further evidence of the Government's poor policy execution. "Well it's pathetic," he said. "It would be comical, this very low take-up, missing their targets by so much.

"They said themselves that they were going to have 35,000 customers connected to the network by June last year, and yet they have only 4,000 connected, only 2,315 of which are connected to the fibre network. "So this is a shocking shortfall."

NBN Co has attributed the shortfall to delays in the rollout while it waits for Telstra's structural separation approval, which will clear the way for it to use the telco's underground infrastructure.

But Mr Turnbull says that is a poor excuse. "The reality is that they have not been able to deliver the connections they said they would," he said.

"There are plenty of areas in Australia where the Telstra infrastructure was either available on a temporary basis if you like, before the final agreements were entered into, or areas where the Telstra infrastructure, such as green fields sites, was not relevant in any case."

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde says NBN Co is right to wait for the Telstra deal to be approved by the ACCC, which is likely to occur next month. "That now gives NBN Co the opportunity to roll out the NBN [much more quickly] with the assistance of Telstra," Mr Budde said. "So, yes, there was a backlog, but because of the contract signed with Telstra, all indications are that that backlog will disappear over 2012, and that the company will be on target for 2012."

"2012 will be the test year," he added. "If we were to talk about this a year from now and it is still a disappointment, then I think we would have a problem. "I think that if you could get the 500,000 rollout, roughly that's what they are looking at.

"So if you start looking at 400-500,000 people that are able to get access to it, then I would think you start looking at at least 100,000 people that should be connected to the network around that time."


2 January, 2012

Secrecy over foreign investment

A coverup for bureaucratic inertia, no doubt

The rejection letter couldn’t have been clearer. The Federal Government was holding plenty of documents that were pertinent to my freedom of information request — I just wasn’t going to get any of them. In fact, I would need to pay $416.62 just for the chance to officially receive a stack of blanked-out and redacted pages.

"Around 19 documents have been identified as potentially falling within the scope of your request. Given the nature of the documents I envisage that most, if not all, of the documents will be exempt from release,’’ the government wrote.

So what was the FOI targeted at... Troop movements in Afghanistan? The prime minister’s private schedule? The names of ASIO’s anti-terrorism informants?

No, it was a request for some basic facts and figures about the state of foreign investment in Australia’s residential real estate market.

Like the number of temporary residents who’ve purchased established dwellings around the country — and, specifically, how many times people have been pinged for breaking the rules. Not individual names and addresses, mind you, just general stats about how the enforcement regime has been working.

The kind of information that should appear in the Foreign Investment Review Board’s annual report or be available upon request, but for some reason necessitates a FOI filing to even attempt to get access. (FIRB’s annual reports are maddeningly unspecific, not to mention published at a snail’s pace. The 2009-10 report is most recent).

Tussling with governments over the release of information is just part of a reporter’s job, fair enough.

But this kind of blanket ban looks suspiciously political.

The case for tightening up foreign investment regulation was made quite clearly by the Labor government when it changed the rules in April 2010 in response to growing community anger.

"The Rudd Government is acting to make sure that investment in Australian real estate by temporary residents and foreign non-residents, is within the law, meets community expectations and doesn't place pressure on housing availability for Australians," said [Assistant Treasurer Senator Nick Sherry].

"The new provisions announced today will mean that anyone trying to flout Australia's strict foreign investment rules will face tough new penalties that will be fully enforced."

Treasury and FIRB personnel must have missed the point of that announcement since all the documents related to judging the success of those new measures have been deemed out of bounds.

My next step is to contest the fee and the document exemptions on the basis that the release of the information is in the public interest. And I’m going to frequently quote Mr Sherry when I do it.


A real environmentalist thinks the Greenies are clueless

When the Bureau of Meteorology releases its annual data this week, it will probably announce that Australia has just had the second or third wettest year in its recorded history. No surprise. The most miserable summer in Sydney in 50 years. The coldest autumn nationally in more than 50 years. Record flooding in Victoria. A Christmas Day in Melbourne with hailstones the size of eggs. Massive floods in south Queensland. Cyclone Yasi in north Queensland. Heavy rainfall across the desert inland. Extreme rainfall and cold in Darwin.

Multiple-choice question: what's it all mean?

(a) Onset of global warming impact.

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(b) Latest cycle of El Nino - Southern Oscillation.

(c) Combination of global warming and El Nino.

(d) Monumental mishandling of the landscape.

The most interesting explanation I have heard for the extreme weather comes from a landscape restorer, Peter Andrews.

He chooses (d).

"Our landscape is still on a dramatic downward spiral," he told me. "When the heavy rains came recently I saw the Goulburn River was running brown. The river was thick with soil. About one farm an hour was being carried down that river. "

He discounts the argument that we are seeing the impact of global warming. "The whole global warming argument misses the point. Yes, we are facing an environmental disaster. Yes, it is urgent. Yes, it is caused by our own activities. But we have misdiagnosed the problem … In terms of dealing with Australia's problems, the global warming industry is a giant con."

His philosophy, boiled down to its essence, is that our landscape was working brilliantly at retaining water and soil until European settlement began making "improvements".

By changing the landscape, we changed the weather. Transforming the land by cropping, herding and irrigation created a cycle of heating and cooling on the land, a cycle of boom and bust, that could only grow more extreme.

Peter Andrews? We wrote about him several years ago. Since then he's been on the ABC's Australian Story, written two books and gathered a following for his land restoration technique called Natural Sequence Farming. His great calling card is the one landscape he has been able to shape and control, the Baramul Stud in the upper Hunter Valley, owned by the retail magnate Gerry Harvey.

During the long drought, I visited Baramul and it remained watered, retaining moisture in the soil. During the big wet of the last two years, Baramul has gained soil, not seen it washed away.

"While other properties have been eroding around us, in the last five years we've gained about 10 million tonnes of soil and sand," he told me. "The reed beds in the creek are now functioning as the system functioned in the millions of years before settlement. The reeds slow the flow of water and help store water in the landscape. The extensive presence of reeds we have now is the same pattern that [Charles] Sturt described when he made his journey down the Darling River."

Gerry Harvey is happy. His wealth may be taking a beating as the share price of Harvey Norman slides thanks to a structural decline in traditional retailing, but Baramul is thriving.

Andrews, like Harvey, is a businessman, not some anti-farming zealot. He's been a farmer, and thinks farming can be done so much better. Even cotton farming could be transformed into a practice less alien to the landscape and more productively.

He believes most of the agricultural sector has misread its own lifeblood, the landscape, causing a massive build-up of heat on the land, which then draws cool air from the ocean.

"As soon as all the crops ripen, there is a build-up of heat on the land that is not managed by plants. This heat joins the weather system, causing a massive increase in thermal build-up. This causes extreme weather …"

It is a big theme to consider on the first Monday of the year, especially with the linkages Andrews sees between the wet Sydney summer, the storms in Melbourne, and the rainfall across northern and central Australia.

It's all linked, he says, and the accelerating cycle of extreme weather is a challenge made by our own hand.

He regards the global warming debate, and the government's responses via a carbon tax, as an exercise of expensive irrelevance on a massive scale, compared with the immediate challenge of soil and water loss and the build-up of salinity in the landscape. He sees the threat to the nation's long-term productive capacity as more immediate than the threat posed by higher global temperatures.

Andrews is also disenchanted by the attempts to restore the Murray-Darling river system, a process that has so far pleased no one, and led to the federal government's purchase of water rights for billions of dollars.

"Cattle are the main reason why the Murray-Darling is in a mess," he said. "It used to function perfectly. The amount of evaporation today is a disgrace. It is about 54 per cent. It used to be zero. Water was recycled many times after rainfall."

On the other great issue facing farmers, coal seam gas mining, and the practice of extraction by hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, Andrews also has strong views. "Fracking is exceptionally dangerous. Groundwater is the most critical thing in the landscape and coal seam gas is a real threat to groundwater."

All this should make him a hero to the Greens, but he is appalled by the thought. "The Greens have no idea. They are clueless."


Family Tax Benefits extended to students over 16

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has hit the political trail early with a visit to western Sydney to announce the fulfilment of an election promise. She visited the Huyng and Tran families in a Labor-held western Sydney seat on Sunday to announce the extension of the Family Tax Benefit.

From January 1, the Prime Minister says Family Tax Benefits for low-income families will now cover students over 16. "Currently families get a rude shock when their child turns 16," she said.

"The child's still at school, they still need feeding, they still need new clothes, they've got all the expenses of having a teenager in the household but their family benefit can drop by 67 per cent. From today we are fixing that."

The benefits will be increased by up to $4200 a year for each child from January 1. The increase, unveiled in the May 2011 budget, will bring the Family Tax Benefit Part A for eligible teenagers to $6307 a year. It will apply to youngsters aged between 16 and 19 who stay at school or undertake vocational training.

Ms Gillard said the Federal Government wants children staying at school. "All the evidence tells us that if kids drift away from school early, then that can mean a lifetime of disadvantage," she told reporters at Smithfield in Sydney's west on Sunday. "And we are concerned that for some low-income families, the cost of keeping their teenagers at school is just too much for them."

Families stand to gain up to $160 extra a fortnight, replacing an old system that assumed teenagers left school at 16 and got a job.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin said evidence showed teenagers from lower-income families were less likely to finish year 12. "We want that to change," she told reporters.


Feds standing by 24-hour medical helpline

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek is standing by her decision to fund a 24-hour medical helpline despite criticism from health professionals and the Opposition.

The Government announced the national rollout of the telephone service, saying $260 million will be spent on bolstering after-hours medical options to take pressure off emergency departments.

The service has been available in many states since July 1 and will now be extended to Victoria and Queensland.

Ms Plibersek says the after-hours helpline has been successfully trialled in some cities. "It's received about 70,000 calls already," she said. "A third of those have been from parents of young kids.

"In each circumstance we're trying to make it easier for people to talk to a GP or see a GP, because we know that a lot of people are turning up to the emergency department of hospitals when they would prefer to see a doctor.

"Often a little bit of reassurance over the phone can stop you having to go to the emergency department in the middle of the night with a young child. "They'd be waiting shorter times and of course we take pressure off the emergency departments of hospitals."

Mixed response

Dr John Shephard, the senior medical adviser of the 24-hour helpline, says the service will cut hospital waiting times.

He has been working at a similar hotline for 11 years and says a third of people who call would have otherwise gone to emergency departments. "We're taking the pressure off emergency departments. Some of those callers who would otherwise have gone to an emergency department... a percentage of them, we're managing to divert to see a regular GP in their normal hours," he said.

But the Australian Medical Association disagrees.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton says while reassurance is good for parents with young children, a trial of the hotline in Western Australia did not see a decrease in hospital waiting times.

"Certainly seen in WA when some of these telephone trial systems were introduced early, the locum services became concerned that they would be left out of the loop and in fact they were busier," he said.

"The emergency departments were looking at whether waiting times were reduced and they found that they really weren't because I guess parents were quite rightly informed if you really are concerned and things don't improve then you need to see a doctor quickly."

The Opposition says the Government should not be commended for the announcement. "This year the Government ripped $60 million out of after-hours GP services and so mums and dads have been missing out," health spokesman Peter Dutton said.

"You can't take money with one hand and give part of it back with the other and then expect people are going to say that's a job well done."


1 January, 2012

Australia is in the midst of the biggest baby boom in its history

One wonders how many of these births are to "asylum seekers". I often see African ladies about the place trailed by several little kids

AUSTRALIA is in the midst of the biggest baby boom in our history. Final figures for 2011 are expected to show the number of births topping 300,000 eclipsing the 250,000 children born at the peak of the original baby boom in 1961. "These numbers are absolutely unprecedented," social researcher Mark McCrindle said.

And the rush of new arrivals will help the country hit another milestone in 2012, with the population reaching 23 million some time in July. Latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show Australia's population grew 1.4 per cent over the past year nearly one and a half times the global average.

"The debate over whether we want a big Australia or not is over, we're getting one," Mr McCrindle said. "Whether you like it or not, these are the numbers."

The most recent ABS data says a new Aussie is born every one minute and 47 seconds.

But women are waiting longer to have children, with the average age of mums rising from 29 to 30 between 2000 and 2009, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

"The proportion of mothers aged 35 and over also continues to rise up from 17.1 per cent in 2000 to 22.8 per cent in 2009," AIHW spokeswoman Associate professor Elizabeth Sullivan said.

The number of births has been accelerating for a decade now. The Howard government introduced the baby bonus payment in 2002 after the fertility rate hit an all-time low of 1.7 children per family in 2001. The fertility rate is now more than two.

Mr McCrindle, of McCrindle Research, said that had produced another trend, Tween Town, with record numbers of pre-teens aged eight to 12.

The children of Generation X, they were being raised differently as their parents reacted to the "cotton-wool kids, bubble-wrap generation, helicopter parenting" of their own upbringings. "We see this kind of pendulum in parenting," said Mr McCrindle. "Generation X are encouraging their kids to get outdoors more, go for the sleep-over, go on camp, expand their skills and horizons."

The ballooning at the bottom end of the age range is being mirrored at the other, as the original Baby Boomers reach retirement age. "We will have more 65th birthdays next year than we've ever seen in our history ... we're looking at more than 200,000 of them,"Mr McCrindle said.

With an ageing population and a record number of births, those in the middle will have their work cut out. "We're calling it the 'carer nation'," he said.

"There's a shortage of aged care and a shortage of child care, but the third carer issue is the home carer. If you take a Baby Boomer in their 60s, they might be looking after their grandkids a couple of days a week as their children work and their own ageing parents also need a lift to the doctor or some level of care.

"You have this massive and silent group of thousands, if not millions of people, with this care role. It saves the government billions of dollars and its not really recognised and respected."


Gillard government to throw more people onto the pension

Dependence on government encouraged rather than self-reliance in old age

NEW Federal Government superannuation rules could rob retirees of tens of thousands of dollars.

Projections calculated for The Sunday Mail show some of the nation's poorest workers will lose at least $32,000 by the time they retire - the equivalent of a round-the-world trip in today's dollars - under Gillard Government plans to slash payments under its co-contribution program.

Low-income workers were promised a retirement nest-egg boost from next year through tax cuts, adding about $35,000 to super funds.

But projections by financial advice veteran Noel Whittaker show that could be wiped out by changes in co-contribution rules from July 1. A 44-year-old part-time worker earning $25,000 a year who made an annual personal contribution of $1000 into a super fund could lose as much as $32,000 by retirement age, according to the forecast.

"All these changes make it less easy for people to provide for their own retirement," Mr Whittaker, of financial firm Whittaker Macnaught, said. "This further tinkering with the rules comes at a time when older workers are desperately trying to rebuild their super after the impact of the GFC. "Many older employees may have to work far longer than they planned."

From July, voluntary super fund contributions will not be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Federal Government. The Government will instead pay 50c for every dollar parked in super by workers and halve the maximum contribution entitlement to $500 a year. Thousands will become ineligible for the payments after the income test cut-off was slashed from $61,920 a year to $46,920 a year.

Soon-to-be retirees would also feel the pain of an extended freeze on the cap limiting the amount of cash they can throw into super to $25,000 a year.

Queensland Council of Social Service president Karyn Walsh feared the changes made it harder than ever for workers to understand their super.

SuperRatings managing director Jeff Bresnahan said it had gone too far in undoing overly generous Howard Government-era incentives.

Analysts expect only a mild improvement on this year's dismal super performance.

A spokesman for Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said changes to the scheme would better target low-income earners through tax rebates.


Adelaide preachers testing free speech provisions

ADELAIDE'S controversial street preachers are taking their hate messages aboard city trains.

The preachers came to blows with drinkers this week after shouting their message to patrons at a Victor Harbor hotel. And now they want police to fine them for their behaviour on trains so they can challenge free speech laws in court.

Members of Street Church Adelaide have polarised the community in recent years with vocal Friday night protests in Rundle Mall in which they shout slogans at passing shoppers such as "you are all sinners and will be killed by God".

Preachers spokesman Caleb Corneloup said the group had been taking their message aboard city trains over the past fortnight in an effort to spread their word further.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said police had been called to remove preachers from trains on the Noarlunga line in two separate incidents on December 21.

Transit staff reported that two male preachers were "abusing" passengers with slogans such as "homosexuals are sinners and women are all sinners" while the third recorded the incident on a mobile phone.

Police met the train as it arrived at Adelaide railway station and the preachers left the train.

"Preaching on public transport is of concern to the Department, as it would be likely to cause discomfort for customers on board and in prescribed areas such as stations," the spokeswoman said. "In the event of such an incident, the Department will consider the options available under the Passenger Transport Act."

The spokeswoman said fines could be issued by either police or Passenger Service Assistants.

Mr Corneloup said no fines had been imposed as yet, but he was eager for police to issue a member with an expiation notice so they could challenge the laws in a criminal court. "I think if a police officer issues a fine that is the best way to do it, so that we can test the laws in front of a magistrate," he said.

Mr Corneloup denied preachers were hassling commuters and claimed their methods aboard trains were conducted in a "more gentlemanly" way than the Rundle Mall gatherings. "It is a really good environment for preaching," Mr Corneloup said. "You have got a captive audience and it is much easier to get your message across. You are able to preach in a lower voice."

The preachers challenged a ruling by Adelaide City Council that the gatherings were unlawful. In August, the Full Court of the Supreme Court ruled they had a right to continue their controversial sermons. Mr Corneloup said the previous court ruling gave him confidence his group had every right to preach on public transport.

Public transport regulations stipulate people cannot act in a manner that "is likely to interfere with the comfort of, or disturb or annoy, another person". "Let's say you had a really smelly guy come on the train," Mr Corneloup said. "His presence could be annoying or interfering with someone else's comfort but does the law extend to that? I don't think so."

While the group's Rundle Mall preaching has sparked clashes between group members and pro-gay rights protesters, Mr Corneloup said few people had objected to their presence on trains.

"Almost everyone just sits and listens," he said. "One or two people out of the blue might say they don't want to hear about religion but there have been no real problems."

People for Public Transport SA spokeswoman Margaret Dingle said while the organisation had no formal policy about preaching on trains, she was concerned commuters may be unnecessarily bothered.

"It is a difficult issue because people have the right to put their point of views across, but they should not do it in such a way that bothers other passengers," Ms Dingle said.


Furore over government-funded dentistry

A CLAMPDOWN on the $750 million-a-year Medicare dental scheme has been recommended by a new study, which found dentists were overservicing patients by providing a high number of expensive treatments under the scheme.

The Medicare Chronic Dental Disease Scheme, which provides $4250 worth of dental treatment every two years to people with a chronic disease, is at the centre of a political storm.

The government claims the scheme has been rorted, and for three years it has been trying to axe it to pay for a funding injection into state public dental services, a move that has been repeatedly blocked by the Senate.

The Greens, who have demanded an increase in public dental funding as a condition of their support for the minority government, want Labor to expand the scheme. Within five years they want Medicare to pay for dental care for all Australians whether or not they have a chronic illness.

A study by the University of Sydney and Westmead Centre for Oral Health published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health suggests the government may be correct in saying patients are getting services they do not need under the Medicare scheme. "Indirect restorations including bridges do, at first sight, appear over-represented, and also account for a high proportion of cost," the authors say.

About a third of the money spent under the scheme went on dentures and a further 30 per cent was spent on crown and bridge work, the study found.

Few dentists were giving oral hygiene advice to patients under the scheme with just 14.7 per cent of patients getting such education. To stamp out overservicing and spare taxpayers, the authors suggest the government implement a pre-approval process for expensive crown and bridge dental work.

This would ensure the services are provided for dental health, not cosmetic purposes. Similar regulation worked in dental services paid for by the department of Veterans Affairs, the study said.

The study calls for clear clinical guidelines on the suitability of crown and bridgework to curb abuse of the scheme.

Sydney University dental expert Hans Zoellner, study co-author, says the government had refused to properly regulate the scheme because it wanted to discredit it so it could close it down. The study found 1.8 per cent of Australians had used the scheme between 2007 and 2009 and the average cost of treatment per patient was about $1800, well below the $4250 payment threshold.

A separate study last month found the cost of treatment per patient had fallen 45 per cent from September 2008 to $1201 in September this year as those who needed initial costly treatment moved into "maintenance mode".

New Health Minister Tanya Plibersek vowed to reform the scheme, saying it was unfair millionaires with a chronic illness could get $4250 in treatment, but low-income earners without a health problem missed out.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative